"Today, Phuket has reached the point where there have been no infections for a total of 13 days,” Mr Sathit said this afternoon.
“In the latest cases, where four infections were found, the Department of Medical Sciences repeatedly checked three times to confirm the results clearly as negative, not infected,” he said.
“To maintain the epidemic control standard, although this is not the end, but it has reached this level of success. Praise to Phuket that there have been no new patients for 13 consecutive days. Thank you everyone. Try to keep this tally, do not fall,” he said.
The confusion over the four cases has caused some consternation.
The four cases were added to the national tally on Monday.
Now, the four will have to be deducted from the national totals reported since Sunday.
One of the four cases reported by Phuket officials last Sunday was later confirmed to a Patong Police officer, even though officials described him in their report only as Case 224, “A Thai man, 29, a public servant who lived in the Patong area.”
It was reported that he first became ill on May 2.
However, only earlier today, seemingly unaware of the news, Patong Police Chief Col Aganit Danpitaksat confirmed that 41 fellow Patong officers had tested negative to the virus. They were subjected to tests as a precaution after Col Aganit was told that one of his officers had been confirmed as infected.
He also confirmed today that 24 officers who worked closely with the officer in question still remained in quarantine as a precaution.
Before today, Phuket officials have refused to answer questions about the cases or answer why no action was taken to prevent the spread of the virus in any of the four areas where the cases were confirmed.
In maintaining their collective silence, even the meeting of the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee on Monday morning did not publicly discuss the issue, or since.
Even today, it was Deputy Health Minister Sathit who broke the news, with Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana – whose transfer to Petchaburi has already been approved by Cabinet – sitting right beside him.
While Mr Sathit today was happy to announce that the four cases were now confirmed as not infected, there was no explanation as to why they were reported as confirmed as infected in the first place.
Mr Sathit was in Phuket today (May 14) to allegedly “provide support and encouragement to Phuket officials” for their fine work in preventing a major outbreak on the island. As such he heaped praise on Phuket officials for keeping Phuket clear of any new infections.
“The Ministry of Public Health thanks you and encourages all staff in Phuket to work hard to keep the COVID situation under control. Through various measures which have received full cooperation from the people, including proactive screening for the disease, a measure that holds to a standard ahead of other provinces,” Mr Sathit said.
Mr Sathit confirmed that Phuket airport will open this Saturday (May 16), but cautioned that opening up Phuket to allow people to enter and leave the province must be done “step by step” and “hand-in-hand” with measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.
He added that the request to open Phuket’s borders was being considered by superiors in Bangkok, and that they understood that continuing the lockdown restrictions is causing widespread economic hardship across the island.
“If Phuket remains locked down, there will be economic problems,” he said plainly.
“The province must proceed to build confidence among tourists traveling to Phuket along with controlling the disease, disease control and tourism must be done in pairs,” he said.
“Importantly, Phuket people must be strict in walking forward together. Phuket must be safe when opened, and able to drive the economy,” he added.
“Opening the city [sic] requires confidence in safety. In this region, it can be done ahead of our tourism competitors,” he said, identifying Singapore and Malaysia as key regional competitors that Phuket could outpace in reopening.
Mr Sathit also urged people to practice the “new normal”, and observe the now-standard hygiene practices in their daily lives.
“As everyone wishes, be patient, and gradually open the city [sic] one step at a time,” he said.
Following his attendance at the meeting at Phuket Provincial Hall, Mr Sathit embarked on a tour of local businesses that have now been allowed to reopen under the nationwide relaxation of the “lockdown restrictions” rolled out to prevent the spread of COVID-19
During his tour, he inspected how the businesses were upholding the health guidelines issued as a mandatory condition of being allowed to reopen.