Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana today (May 16) confirmed that his request to re-open the bridges onto and off the island has been denied, and that all ports in the province are to remain closed until further notice.
That news followed Phuket International Airport yesterday being ordered to remain closed to all non-essential flights also until further notice.
However, Governor Phakaphong was not disheartened by the decision from Bangkok to keep Phuket under lockdown.
“The lockdown of three transportation channels [air, road and sea] has not been lifted, but we are ready to lift the lockdown in Phuket when we receive the new order to lift the lockdown.” he said after the daily meeting of the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee today.
Phuket Provincial Police broke the news first that access across the bridges remained closed to all non-essential traffic with a post on their official Facebook page late last night.
The post explained that all authorised traffic, including drivers delivering essential goods, products, medical equipment and supplies, authorised government officers, construction materials (but now only for government projects) and any other people deemed “necessary” by officers at the checkpoint would continue to be granted passage onto and off the island as usual under the original lockdown order.
At last report, on May 5, Governor Phakaphong revealed that “about 50,000” people had registered to leave Phuket due to economic hardship brought on by unemployment due to the “COVID situation”.
Since then there have been no official statements as to how many people have actually left the island. All police and officials asked by The Phuket News for more than a week have refused to answer the question. That silence comes as fear spread throughout the country that people returning home from Phuket will be carrying the virus with them.
Yet, according to the PhuketSmartCheck-in app, as of today the total number of people who departed Phuket from May 3-15 was 20,731.
The app also reveals that in total 41,462 people have registered through the app to leave Phuket.
It is not clear whether the total number of people registered to leave Phuket includes those who registered before the latest app was launched following rush to leave the island forced police to close the bridge within hours of opening on May 1.
It is also not clear if the number given for people leaving the island from May 3-5 includes those who departed before the Phuket Provincial Police commandeered the queueing process to make sure the departure checks and process were “more orderly”.
Highlighting how “simple” the process was to register to enter of leave Phuket, the Phuket Provincial Police have released a flowchart to explain the process.
COMING TO PHUKET
The PhuketSmartCheck-in app also reveals that as of today (May 16) the number of people registered as living in Phuket allowed back onto the island from May 3 to May 15 totalled 14,245.
In total, 28,490 people have registered their intent to come back to Phuket, the app notes.
The only public admission that it was possible for people to enter Phuket came earlier this week with Phuket Provincial Police posting notices urging people to use the PhuketSmartCheck-in app in order to “enter-exit Phuket”.
Questions from The Phuket News as to what conditions must be fulfilled in order for people to be approved entry to Phuket have been ignored.
National headlines and repeated statements by Phuket officials have heaped onto people the message that any persons leaving Phuket must observe a 14-day quarantine on reaching their destination – a mandatory requirement that has always very clearly communicated since the option to leave the island was announced..
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who also serves as the Public health Minister, earlier today repeated that this must be observed in his press conference about the COVID situation in the country.
“We never know where the virus is coming from,” he said today.
Meanwhile, there has not been a single statement clarifying whether any people being granted entry to Phuket must observe a 14-day quarantine before being allowed onto the island.
The new PhuketSmartCheck-in app makes it clear that people leaving Phuket must first observe a 14-day quarantine and obtain a ”Fit to Travel” permit issued by health authorities, but makes no mention of any quarantine period for people coming to Phuket.
The Phuket Provincial Police last night revealed that in addition to those returning to their home provinces due to the impact of COVID-19, regular people will be granted passage for special circumstances, such as returning to work in Phuket, any medical emergencies or funerals for family members or other urgent business to attend to in Phuket.
“Applicants must bring evidence to present to officers at the checkpoint,” the post advised.
“Whether or not people have been approved to enter or leave Phuket should be available online by checking the app the next day,” it said.
The police also stressed in the post, “Register first - make passage faster, simpler, more convenient” – a request that throws into doubt whether people need to register online first at all in order to be granted passage onto or off the island.
The Phuket Provincial Police today did make it clear that only people with “urgent” matters to address will be allowed onto the island. Arrivals will be subjected to “strict inspection”, they warned.
“If there is no need [to enter Phuket], they will not be allowed to travel into the area,” the police noted in a post late this afternoon.
For more than a week all officials and police have refused to answer any questions about the Phuket Provincial Police asking people through their online registration forms to confirm their incomes before the COVID-19 outbreak and their income at the time they were registering to leave the island.
The initial online form used by the Phuket Provincial Police asked people to enter their incomes both before and after the outbreak began. The new PhuketSmartCheck-in app still continues to ask people their income before the outbreak, but does not ask about their income after.
After a week of badgering by The Phuket News, Phuket Provincial Police Commander Maj Gen Rungrote was still not available to answer questions, but the The Phuket News finally managed to contact Lt Col Wasuthep Jai-in, one of the administrators and coordinator of information with the Phuket Provincial Police online form to register to leave Phuket.
“That information will be handed over to provincial officials to use in making policy decisions,” was all he would say, and declined to answer any further questions.
No details of the extent of the impact of COVID19 on people’s incomes has been recognised or been made available by provincial officials.