The assurance comes as the island yesterday marked 114 local infections in the past seven days ‒ easily exceeding the “90 infections in one week” limit set by the the Centre of COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in Bangkok late last month as reason enough to start reviewing whether or not the Phuket Sandbox scheme should be halted.
“The Phuket Sandbox scheme is still continuing. The situation right now has not disturbed the opening [of Phuket to receiving fully vaccinated tourists without quarantine],” Governor Narong said during a live broadcast this morning (July 27).
“We think that the measures to be enforced will be able to control the outbreak,” he added, referring to a raft of new COVID prevention measures introduced in a new provincial order issued yesterday.
Phuket Provincial Public Health Office (PPHO) Chief Dr Kusak Kukiattikoon explained to the press last night the criteria set out for revising the Phuket Sandbox scheme as announced by Natapanu Nopakun, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Information and Deputy Spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, on June 22 as part of the CCSA’s national COVID-situation briefing.
“If there were 90 persons infected per week in Phuket, that would be a criteria for reconsideration of the scheme once it has started, or for any adjustments,” Mr Natapanu said last month.
“Also if all three districts in Phuket are affected, and in that more than six villages are affected, that would be another criteria,” he added.
“If there are COVID cases and there are no linkages found and no contact tracing is possible, that would be another criteria,” Mr Natapanu continued.
“Also, if the hospital bed capacity exceeds 80%, that would be another criteria,” he added.
“If the situation becomes worse in Phuket after the opening of the province on the 1st of July with these particular criteria, then it [the box scheme] would be reconsidered,” Mr Natapanu warned.
“Some of the reconsideration of the Phuket Sandbox scheme would be possibly to decrease the level of business activity or to conduct ‘Sealed Route’ travel, and also to have more hotel quarantine,” he added.
“Also as a worst-case scenario, they would have to halt the [Sandbox] scheme in Phuket,” Mr Natapanu said.
Dr Kusak explained last night, “If the situation meets all five criteria, we will start enforcing strict measures respectively as follows: 1. allowing them to travel only in the sealed routes; 2. cancelling the sealed routes and allowing them to stay only in hotel areas; 3. Allowing them to stay only in their rooms; and 4. Cancelling the sandbox scheme.”
“If we have 90 new cases in a week, but we are still able to handle the cases, we will just consider following the plan. We need to keep a balance between controlling the disease and economic recovery,” he added.
Governor Narong this morning noted, “The situation outside of the island is getting worse, so we need to take care and control our people to be safe.”
However, he gave no indication that the requirements to enter Phuket will face further revisions after a slew of new measures tightening control over who may enter Phuket were rolled out last week.
Asked whether the measures to close the selected venues, all schools and Central Phuket shopping mall, among others, will reduce the number of new infections, Governor Narong said, “I would say this is not the first time for a situation like this. The number of cases goes up and down. We have learned from the past that closing places and locking down can reduce the number of cases, and right now we also have strict entry requirements.
“We have strict entry requirements for new arrivals which we think helps a lot for screening and protecting our people from infection from outside the province,” he added.
“For inside the island, we have clear measures. If we find any areas having many new cases of infection, we immediately send our medical staff to conduct proactive screening and take high-risk people into the local quarantine,” he said.
“This is necessary because we need to keep Phuket Sandbox going. We have reopened the island [to tourists] for only a little while and already received very good signs in terms of economic recovery,” he added.
“Today, we discussed disease control measures that may affect some businesses. I need to ask operators and local people for understanding and cooperation. We need to protect the benefits of the overall people on the island,” Governor Narong said.
PPHO Chief Dr Kusak last night that the number of new infections was expected to remain high for the immediate future.
“In the coming week, I expect that the number of new cases will remain at 20-plus because one infected case can at the minimum infect five high-risk people. Right now, more than 440 high risk contacts are in local quarantine [LQ],” he said.
“We need to work quickly to have new infected cases entered into treatment and take high risk contacts into the local quarantine,” Dr Kusak continued.
“Right now, we have 450 rooms at LQ venues, and we are looking for about 150-200 more rooms for future high-risk contacts,” he added.
Dr Kusak also pointed out that his office is pushing to further protect the public from infection through third vaccination injections to help boost immunity to the virus.
“For the third booster vaccines [sic], the PPHO and Vachira Phuket Hospital have already filed a request to the Ministry of Public Health to ask for the doses of vaccine. We need to prioritise groups of people to receive the third injection as we have done before,” he said.
Dr Chalermpong Sukontapol, Director of Vachira Phuket Hospital, last night added, “We already provided a third dose of vaccine to medical staff last week. Next, [third] vaccine injections will be provided to frontline staff, including those who work in disease control and have contact with Sandbox arrivals.
“These groups of people will receive their third injection in early August. The general public will receive the [third injection] vaccine later,” he said.
Dr Chalermpong said that the number of beds available in intensive-care units (ICUs) currently looked relatively healthy.
“Right now, we have 17 ICU rooms, and the number of beds occupied is not very high because our people have been vaccinated and have very low potential to become red-zone patients [sic],” he said.
Some 90% of the people in Phuket currently receiving treatment for COVID-19 infection were what Dr Chalermpong called “green-zone patients”.
“About 3-4% of patients are considered to be red-zone patients,” he added, without giving any specific figures for either category.
“At Vachira Phuket Hospital, we will increase the number of ICU rooms to 27. If combined with other hospitals, we will have about 50 ICU rooms on the island,” Dr Chalermpong said.
“We have about 200 normal rooms for isolation and group-patient rooms, and we can add an extra 100 rooms. At the field hospital at PSU [Prince of Songkla University Phuket campus in Kathu], we have 170 beds. Of those, 75 beds are occupied,” he continued.
“However, right now we have a lot of green-zone patients, so we need to prepare the PRU [ Phuket Rajabhat University in Rassada] as another field hospital with 70 beds in the first phase and a total of 195 beds in the second phase,” Dr Chalermpong said.