Mr Bhummikitti, President of the Phuket Tourist Association, has gone on a PR offensive in the Thai media, conducting interviews to explain to Thai people just how wrong things have gone for Phuket, and how a lot of it could have been avoided.
The media campaign followed the announcement on Thursday to make a ‘last stand’ call for the national government to make good on its promise to provide the vaccine doses necessary to uphold its promise for Phuket to reopen to international tourists on July 1.
Phuket’s core business leaders have every right to be furious. They asked to be allowed to independently source vaccines in January. The request was blanked.
Since then the central government has waited and stalled – for whatever reasons, though the rumour mill is rife with speculation of intentional delays to support the arrival of a locally made vaccine – and now Phuket is just eight and a half away weeks from the promised deadline with vaccinations now deployed to just 20% of the minimum requirement of the population of the island needed to reach herd immunity against the virus.
As Phuket’s business leaders have pointed out, the July 1 reopening was not just a promise to Phuket. This was a promise the current Thai government made to the world. At the outset, it could have easily been achieved, but inaction pinned on hopes that the plan in place would work has undermined that hope.
For now, the central government, which is clearly pulling the strings in all matters relating to COVID regardless of what explanations they spatter the press with, is keeping the spotlight firmly on infection numbers and trying to convince people that the vaccination rollout is steaming ahead wonderfully.
What they are not talking about is the economic impact, and they are most definitely not talking in simple, clear terms about the on-the-ground financial impact on people’s daily lives.
The economic policy think tank at the Kasikorn Research Centre estimates that, as of Apr 20, of the B1 trillion emergency decree loan taken to counter the COVID crisis – a word intentionally avoided by the government – there is roughly B240 billion left.
Of note, the experts at the Kasikorn Research Centre also mark, in bold, “An important factor that may turn the situation around is the accelerated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. If delayed, it is likely that the pandemic will persist, and there might be another wave of COVID-19.” That was their opinion just under two weeks ago. They’re not talking about the current “third wave”, they are talking about another wave after that.
What may be construed as “good news” for Phuket is the impact the current restrictions – which to officials apparently still do not constitute a lockdown – is having on other provinces, especially in the northeast, the heartland of political action in Thailand.
The people of Isarn have our sympathies, as non-government reports in Nakhon Ratchasima are recounting stories of basic fish that used to cost B70-80 a kilo now costing upwards of B700 a kilo. Many people in the province rely on making regular trips to the capital and surrounding areas and selling their goods and produce at local markets. The travel restrictions have put paid to that.
The people of the Northeast are not known for being as placid in accepting government policies compared with the acceptance shown by citizens in the South, and Bangkok tends to pay attention to their needs and demands.
On that note, many people may have forgotten that Phuket’s two Members of Parliament elected to office in 2019 are both from the military-aligned Palang Pracharath Party that forms the core of the current central government. It beggars belief that the two local members of the current ruling party are nowhere to be seen when it comes to what the government is doing for its people in Phuket.
We look forward to the central government’s next move, whatever the decision is, even if it is to hold fast to the ongoing plan just to save face, as surely it must be difficult to make the situation any worse.