“The situation with COVID-19 cases increasing after the New Year’s festival may be a public concern, but I confirm there is no idea to close the island in any way,” Governor Narong said yesterday (Jan 5).
“Due to what has been carried out all along, there are two main issues, namely solving the problems of feeding the people. along with disease control,” he added.
“From the Delta era to the Omicron era, we have been able to control the disease to a satisfactory level before the new year, and at the same time also help with the economic recovery…
“The economic recovery is going well, but in the field of disease control, we have to think about how to live with COVID-19,” he said.
“What we need to keep in mind is don’t let the diseases [sic] that come with tourists reach us. We still have to continue to detect infections on the first day. That is, when everyone arrives at the airport, they have to be checked for infection and wait to hear the results at the hotel. At this point, we can be fairly confident that the infection will not infect others,” Governor Narong assured.
Governor Narong maintained the local residents and business operators must keep their guard up to protect themselves from infection.
“It has emphasised that operators must take care of front-line employees who must protect themselves and must periodically be checked by ATK, and we have been doing this all the time. It is an internal control that we have to be as strong with as before, which all entrepreneurs have cooperated well,” he said.
“We must ask for cooperation from all parties to protect themselves to make Phuket come back to be strong, bright and sustainable under the epidemic situation of Covid-19. We don’t know how long this ‘germ war’ will last, but our lives must go on,” he added.
Governor Narong yesterday chaired a meeting at the Phuket Sandbox Operations Center to highlight key issues affecting tourists wanting to come to Phuket.
The key issues included the Thailand Pass approval system, the availability of hospitel rooms for ‘Green’ patients and increasing Phuket’s capability to conduct laboratory tests in order to be able to identify infected people quicker.
Present were Phuket Vice Governor Pichet Panaphong, Phuket Provincial Public Health Office (Chief) Dr Kusak Kukiattikoon, Vachira Phuket Hospital Director Weerasak Lorthongkham and Bhummikitti Raktaengam, President of the Phuket Tourist Association.
Vice Governor Pichet explained that four key issues were directly affecting tourists that the national government needs to attend to.
“The problem of delays in the approval of Thailand Pass for foreign tourists. There are not enough staff resulting in late approval,” was one key issue.
“The province [Phuket provincial government] proposes to bring to the Ministry of Interior to discuss with the CCSA the power to approve foreign tourists traveling into Thailand via Thailand Pass at Phuket Airport. This is currently not the jurisdiction of the Phuket Provincial Government.
“We need the integration of relevant agencies to establish a one-stop service centre and the people, budget, location and tools that must be able to work 24 hours a day.
“We also must establish a Call Center to answer all the problems of foreign tourists, which is beyond the potential and beyond the power of Phuket provincial government,” Vice Governor Pichet said.
The second problem was Phuket’s capability to conduct the second mandatory RT-PCR tests for foreign tourists. “This is not enough for the increasing number of tourists,” V/Gov Pichet said.
Action has already been taken to call in support from the Ministry of Public health region 11 office as well as hospitals and other private medical service providers to cope with the increasing load, he said.
“Five mobile lab vehicles will be coming. The first two mobile labs arrived on Jan 4 [Tuesday], an additional 1,200 people will be tested for infection per day and we have adjusted the lab method to a full sample. We have also set up a call center to coordinate with SHA+ managers. An option is to increase the cost of the second PCR test, which should be an incentive for private hospitals to join and take more action to support us,” he added.
V/Gov Pichet also raised the issue of not enough hospitel rooms on the island for tourists who test positive are designated ‘green’ patients, meaning they are experiencing only mild symptoms of infection.
“The problem is that the number of Hospital Isolation and Hotel Isolation rooms is not enough to support the number of Green patients,” he said plainly.
“The Phuket Provincial Public Health Office, Vachira Phuket Hospital and the Thai Hotels Association Southern chapter are negotiating with hotels to open up as a Hospitel, or convert some rooms to Hotel Isolation to accommodate their own positive customers without being pushed to stay elsewhere,” he said.
“Meanwhile, Vachira Phuket Hospital is currently exploring and evaluating more hotels that voluntarily want to become a hospitel, such as The Par Kathu, De Tu Thalang, The Craft and the Royal Paradise [in Patong], etc. It is expected that we will be able to add another 200 rooms,” he added.
The fourth key issue was insurance companies not willing to cover expenses for tourists designated ‘Green’ patients.
“We propose that the CCSA prescribe measures for incoming foreign tourists that they must be insured with Thai insurance companies in order to solve the problem,” he said.
Phuket officials have reported the issues to the CCSA, and have received a standard response
“The central government has informed [officials] at a meeting that the central government will assess and consider the issues that arise in the operation of the pilot provinces in order to receive tourists of Phuket in order of importance,” Vice Governor Pichet said.
The CCSA had reported it will provide support “to expedite action to help solve problems that arise in Phuket”, he said.
Governor Narong said that he would like to thank the Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, and the Deputy Prime Minister [Anutin], and the executive of the central government, “who have kindly acknowledged the problems of Phuket”.
“From the work of Phuket Province [the provincial government] during the first version of Sandbox, Phuket Province has recognised the problems and adjusted its measures due to some circumstances different from past situations.
“Therefore, Phuket Province has to adjust the concept of working methods more. There is a plan to adjust the Phuket Sandbox to Version 2 in order to prepare and solve the problem of receiving tourists traveling into Phuket, so we can facilitate tourists arriving, including the need to make tourists satisfied with the operation of Phuket as well,” Governor Narong said.
Governor Narong also noted that Phuket needs to push ahead in providing third-dose “booster” vaccinations, as much as possible.
“This is to build confidence among the people of Phuket that the infection for them will be asymptomatic,” he said.
“Most of them [those infected] are primarily Green patients. They are occupying designated beds and medical staff available in the area is sufficient for taking care of the general public, but in the care of foreign tourists who are infected there may be insufficient support facilities or staff,” he noted.
“Therefore we have asked the central government to support this part for the province of Phuket. The province has received good cooperation from all sectors, from the public and from related parties, such as on Soi Bangla, Patong, where everyone is cooperating and organising a big cleaning day, and creating greater responsibility for each other,” he said.
“Now everyone in Phuket is going well because there are many tourists coming in, making the economy better. Therefore, I would like to convey to all brothers and sisters, establishments and related agencies that with this good situation going on, everyone from all sectors must help control the COVID-19 epidemic and take care of themselves by strictly following the public health measures,” Governor Narong urged.
“If the whole province of Phuket continues to work together, Phuket will be able to take care of each other and overcome this crisis,” he said.