The Ministry of Public Health has approved the required number of vaccination doses to be provided to make the July 1 reopening possible, Governor Narong explained in a live broadcast this morning (Mar 24)
Joining the broadcast press conference were Vice Governor Pichet Panapong along with Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam and a host of leading Phuket tourism, hospitality and industry leaders.
Mr Bhummikitti repeated his opinion from his meeting with national health and tourism officials in Bangkok last Friday that Thailand had been calling foreign tourists to visit the country, but making it very difficult for them to do so.
“That has been changed by the vaccine,” he said.
“We had a meeting with tour operators from Europe. They explained that their customers were willing to do everything, such as swab testing at the airport and installing the tracking app, but they were not okay for vaccinated people to have to face quarantine,” he said.
“In the past, we have to accept that quarantine was necessary, but today if most people are vaccinated we do not have anything to be worried about,” he added.
Mr Bhummikitti today also recognised a lower number of people in Phuket needing to be vaccinated than previously indicated, with his view now in line with projections already explained by Phuket Provincial Health Office (PPHO) Chief Dr Kusak Kukiattikoon earlier this month.
“I want to explain that from the civil registration [database], Phuket has about 417,000 registered residents, and of those we have 106,000 people younger than 18 years old who will not be vaccinated,” he said.
“So, we will have about 310,000 people, or about 70% [of the registered population] to be vaccinated. We will vaccinate them all,” he added.
“You will be vaccinated for sure, but as for when and where, the provincial government and the PPHO will work on it,” Mr Bhummikitti assured.
“We will receive 100,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, which is the most in the country [any province will receive]. The 100,000 doses will come from the 800,000 doses delivered last week,” he said.
Mr Bhummitti played down any concerns about severe side-effects from COVID vaccines.
“In this world, we have vaccines from some famous companies. Let’s start with Pfizer. It was well reported that 11 people of one million [who had been given the vaccine] had severe side-effects and had to be in ICU. For the Moderna vaccine, four in a million people had severe side-effects,” he said.
“Phuket will vaccinate less than a million people, so the side-effects will not happen to our people for sure,” he claimed.
“I have spoken with many members of the central government, They challenged that if we can vaccinate our people within the time frame, we can ask for everything we want,” Mr Bhummikitti said.
“They did so because so far the vaccination plan [or rollout] in other provinces has not been successful,” he added.
“We have to unite and show our power to the central government that vaccines will be the solution for Phuket, and the country,” he concluded.
On behalf of Phuket hotel operators, Thailand Hotels Association Southern chapter President Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, said, “For our brothers and sisters in the hotel industry, I believe that we altogether want to be vaccinated and reopen our hotels as soon as possible.
“We have tried hard to adapt, but it is too hard for us when we have only 3,000 people coming each day when we used to have about 30,000 tourists per day,” he said.
“Be patient. We have now seen the light at the end of the tunnel. To pass this crisis, we all have to work together,” he added.
Federation of Phuket Industries President Chernporn Karnjanasaya said that she believed the July 1 deadline was more likely to mark a “soft opening” of tourism for the island.
“I think the opening in July will be like a soft-opening to encourage us to work on preparation. We may need to start by setting sealed areas, so we can review the strength and the weakness of our plan,” Ms Chernporn said.
“We are concerned about both economic recovery and the safety of our people. COVID-19 is like a cancer. We know its existence, but we must be able to live with it,” she said.
Ms Chernporn also played down the risks of receiving a vaccine, compared with the benefits of the island overall being vaccinated.
“The COVID-19 vaccines that have been administered around the world have had a good effect, about 99.98%, while the negative side-effects that have occurred in some people have been because of pre-existing conditions,” she said.
“The negative effects on the human body and the economy are very different. As Phuket has income only from tourism, our people have to work together to be vaccinated,” she added.
Phuket Tourism Industry Council President Sarayuth Mallam also explained that the July 1 reopening does not mean receiving tourists openly from all parts of the world.
“We will not welcome all foreign tourists, but the first groups must be tourists who come from low-risk countries and even then only those who have been vaccinated,” Mr Sarayuth said.
“Tourists who have not been vaccinated still need to face quarantine,” he said plainly.
“This requirement comes from our concern for the safety of our people. If our people are vaccinated and the coming tourists are also vaccinated, the possible infection rate will be only 1% [of the population],” he added.
Mr Sarayuth called on all eligible people to register to be vaccinated so that preparations could be made for when the vaccine doses arrive.
“We all have to be ready to be vaccinated when the vaccines arrive. You don’t need to fight over the vaccination, as we have already made plans for where and when to vaccinate people in each area,” he said.
“Please register through the online form for vaccination. Those who are older than 59 years old do not have to be vaccinated in the first month, as you have to wait for AstraZeneca vaccine,” he added.
“By the way, even after you are vaccinated, you must still wear a face mask and maintain social distancing,” he said.
Governor Narong also recognised fear among the public in being vaccinated.
“The problem is that our people are afraid to be vaccinated. I want to tell you all that vaccination is not dangerous. I had my second injection yesterday. I have not had any side-effects, though I do not have much time for sleep,” he joked.
“It will be very embarrassing if we receive the vaccine doses, but our people are afraid and do not go to get vaccinated,” he said.
“We need to have foreign tourists coming, otherwise we cannot live,” Governor Narong said.