Just this level of thinking is scary. On one hand, the proponents might actually believe it. On the other hand, it may have been focussed on purely to make sure that the government officials receiving the plea to re-open tourism have a simple, singular concept on which to base their decision.
By October, we will be 18 months into the COVID saga, and more than six months into the experts’ warning that structural damage to Phuket’s tourism industry was already well underway. On that point alone, we are grateful that it is finally being understood that the longer the COVID crisis is allowed to drag on, the more the decision of whether or not to continue with isolationist ‘protection’ policies is being taking out of politicians’ hands.
Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew pointed out that by October he wanted to see 70% of the island’s population vaccinated to boost confidence amongst tourists, Thai and foreign, and among the local people living on the island so that the virus will not spread like wildfire if and when it arrives.
We presume that means anyone else working on the frontlines in the tourism industry are to be vaccinated as a requisite for employment. This includes our ‘invisible workers’ who are critical to our tourism industry, including housekeeping, laundry and kitchen staff, not just hotel front desk staff, tour operators and taxi drivers.
It will have to also include any out-of-province workers returning to Phuket to regain employment. If the exodus after the first lockdown last year is any indication, that will be another 40,000-odd people.
Yet all this belies the key issue: safe, hygienic behaviours are our best form of defense. Pinning all our hopes, as Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam put it, on a vaccine is well-wishing.
It also highlights how despite the huge campaign by the government for people to observe safer, more hygienic practices, the base understanding is that it is better to take the responsibility out of the public’s hands. In short, people still can’t be trusted to do the right thing. After all this time, the massive efforts to educate – nay, retrain – the public still have not created a culture of safety.
At this stage, financial hardship is the key motivator for people to change their ways. We can only hope this will inspire deeper change, but soon in the hope of alleviating that suffering as soon as safely possible.
New viruses will keep on coming. We have already seen waves of new infections from new variants. The next time – and there will be a next time, as literally such is life – there will be no vaccine immediately available, and all we will have at the beginning of the outbreak is our cleanliness and habits as our frontline of defense.
The arrival of a COVID vaccine is much-welcomed news, and will go a long way to helping Phuket recover from the ongoing economic crisis, but making health, hygiene and safety intrinsic values is still a long way off. It’s a pity we can’t create a vaccine for that.