The latest debacle this week comes with the main SuperCheap store in Rassada being ordered closed for seven days over COVID infections. In announcing immediately after the daily meeting of the Phuket Provincial Communicable Disease Committee at Provincial Hall yesterday (Sept 11) that the megastore for cheap shopping located north of Phuket Town was to be closed, official reports gave the dates of the ordered closure as from Sept 11-17. Six hours later the actual order was released and the dates given were Sept 12-18.
That announcement came a full day after Phuket Provincial Health Office (PPHO) Chief Kusak Kukiattikoon reported to Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow that a cluster of infections already had been confirmed at a “large shopping mall”, which remained unnamed in official reports. Ironically, that message from Dr Kusak to Deputy PM Supattanapong was delivered in the very same room that the provincial disease committee sat in yesterday.
Meanwhile, Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew yesterday explained to the press that he had dispatched a team of health officers to the mall to investigate on Friday – again, a day after Dr Kusak had already confirmed to a deputy prime minster that the store was the centre of a cluster of infections.
The Governor has yet to explain, first, why the team was dispatched after the PPHO already knew of the infections; and second, why the order for the SuperCheap main store to close was delayed days after health officials already knew that it was the centre of a new cluster of infections. It’s as if either the two didn’t even know the same information despite sitting at the same meeting every day, or they simply didn’t have time to get their story straight before talking to the press. These days it is hard to tell.
Not lost on local observers is that this past week the PPHO map updated daily to show the number of new cases identified in each subdistrict issued each day – making it possible to track rises in the number of infections in each area – have been released later and later, at times into the early hours of the next day, with no explicable reason given. Also commented on online was that the map for Thursday was never released.
Even within minutes of being posted online at 11:29pm yesterday, the daily COVID situation report was already called out for being inaccurate for accounting for only two deaths. A local resident, a Thai national, pointed out that rescue workers had transported the bodies of three COVID victims yesterday. Laughing with “555555” typed in the post, the writer pointed out maybe the first death was too early for officials to notice. The man posted photos of rescue workers actually transporting the three bodies. There was no response.
With each passing day the people of Phuket are treated to a new stunning announcement. Last week it was that the Sandbox scheme had already generated B1.6 billion in income for the local economy. The only way that number could be achieved was to include all the daily spending of tourists but using the number tourists based on the room booking nights that have been prepaid under the scheme. Put simply, that means including daily money spent by tourists who have not even arrived on the island yet.
As for vaccinations, government agencies are heavily promoting how many people are now receiving their third dose booster jabs, while many people across the island still have yet to receive a first injection. Even according to the PPHO’s own report, as of Friday (Sept 10) 430,927 people in Phuket have received one vaccination injection, some 35,660 short of the target 466,587. Keep in mind that is while 480,303 people have reportedly registered through the PhuketMustWin website to be vaccinated. Either the local government does not have the vaccine doses to give to these people, or the people do not want the vaccines being offered. We are wondering how long it will be before any officials even recognise that.
Something is going seriously wrong with the reporting of the infections, deaths, the current economic situation in Phuket, and it is no longer a laughing matter of gross incompetence. It is now just plain insulting.
Of note, it was heartening to hear that Minister of Culture Itthipol Khunpluem was in Phuket in person this week to deliver the message from Bangkok for local officials to clearly report the situation accurately and in a timely manner so that officials can draft appropriate policies in response to the COVID situation as it unfolds.
It may appear odd that the Minister of Culture has a hand at this level of devolving COVID policy, but while Mr Itthipol may be the youngest of the Khunpluem brothers, it would be naive to underestimate the extent of influence that family has at the national level. We hope that local officials take heed of that.