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Phuket Opinion: Biting the bullet

PHUKET: The allowing of domestic tourists to return to Phuket starting this Wednesday (Sept 8) may well be looked back on as a turning point in the island’s policy in coping with COVID-19 infections across the island.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 5 September 2021, 09:00AM

A row of sun loungers sits empty on Patong Beach. Photo: Patong Municipality

A row of sun loungers sits empty on Patong Beach. Photo: Patong Municipality

From Wednesday, domestic travellers will be allowed into Phuket, as long as they have been vaccinated and have tested negative for the virus within 72 hours before arriving. They must also show proof of hotel or accommodation reservation paid in advance and they must be tested for COVID-19 on Day 5 of their stay if they are staying more than seven days.

Also of note, and often forgotten in the excitement of such announcements, is that all visitors entering Phuket must register their travel details through the gophuget.com website ‒ and must present the QR code issued to them to the Communicable Disease Control Officer at the checkpoint before entering Phuket.

The policy shift comes, probably as no surprise, as pressure in Bangkok has mounted in past weeks, and came at the same time that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha finally publicly admitted that we need to “learn to live safely with COVID-19”.

They have been bleating that for the past year, repeating that everyone must learn to live with the “New Normal”, yet so far have not been able to practice that themselves. At every turn, a rise in local infections has been met with a knee-jerk reaction. The “New Normal” so far has been to tell people to not panic, then panic and shut down everything.

That might all be about to change. Officials know there will be more infections on the island after Wednesday regardless of the conditions for being allowed to enter province. The infections we have now are from the current, tighter, restrictions in place. The Delta virus was brought to the island by the same groups of people allowed now, before the easing comes into effect on Wednesday.

The whole point of COVID-prevention measures rolled out anywhere in the world was to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed, leading to unnecessary deaths. That still makes sense. However, the policies we have seen enforced has shifted the focus to a vain attempt to prevent any infections. That is impossible.

Much of this has come from orders from Bangkok, where officials have to contend with large populations living in relatively smaller areas. The alcohol ban in restaurants is from Bangkok, and the “COVID Care Centers” in Phuket were launched as Bangkok officials discovered their “Community Isolation” policy. Not that Phuket officials will openly point the finger at their Bangkok bosses for such policies. In Thailand, holding superiors responsible for their decisions is not appropriate behaviour.

What Phuket officials are not doing that would make great strides in achieving their goal in “building confidence” among tourists and the public is clear reporting of the figures people need to know to understand the true risk of infection on the island.

Since Aug 1, Phuket officials have reported more than 4,200 new confirmed cases of infection of COVID-19 on the island. Yet throughout the past month the total number of ‘Red’ cases (people suffering severe signs of infection) has never climbed above 34. Of course those 34 need the best medical care we can provide, but that number is no cause for the island to be on high alert.

Likewise, for the past week the number of ‘Yellow’ cases has not budged from 316, after falling from a peak of 327 on Aug 28. Again, these patients need medical treatment and supervision in case their health deteriorates, but they are not critical. Pre-COVID-19 these patients would have been normal patients suffering heavy chest infections. Not good, but not unusual.

Not helping in understanding how well positioned Phuket is to cope with any rise in serious infections is the confusing number of hospital beds being reported. A jump of more than 400 “hospital beds” – akin to an entire new hospital popping up overnight – being added to the total number of beds available for COVID patients without any explanation does nothing to inspire any confidence.

Adding to the confusion is “Community Isolation” being roped in to the hospital beds occupied totals without reporting how many of those staying at the COVID Care Centres have not even been confirmed as positive for COVID-19.

Worse, Phuket so far has had 20 deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 since Apr 3. Eight of those deaths have been in the past month. The current policy of not disclosing the circumstances of those deaths does nothing to inspire any confidence, as people as individuals have no idea if they are at the same risk. People tend to fear what they do not know.

This Wednesday may well mark the beginning of a true “New Normal” for Phuket, yet one thing that cannot be ignored is that officials now seem to be admitting that their hand is being forced by the financial hardship brought on the COVID-19 prevention policies, that the policies are now doing more harm than good. The irony is that the easing of the restrictions to enter Phuket may well be the result of the pressure being felt in Bangkok. Go figure.

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skorchio | 06 September 2021 - 14:38:12

Lock it down with single digit infections, open it up with triple digit infections. Now send in the clowns - oops they are already here at the helm .... 

Foot | 06 September 2021 - 13:05:17

@DeKaaskopp.  As sad as it is, it is the reality of the situation.

Foot | 06 September 2021 - 13:03:38

@Kurt.  If only you actually did understand.

Christy Sweet | 06 September 2021 - 11:49:42

Time to divest from tourism which is exploitative and polluting. People  need to rethink their 'right' to go anywhere they want-the pandemics are never going to end if we keep the current status quo. Disaster capitalism meets its match. 

Christy Sweet | 06 September 2021 - 11:44:09

If you agree overwhelming the health care system must be avoided, then the restrictions must stay. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Phuket has limited resources for its huge unregistered population, that's going to count once infections begin spiraling out of control. Don't have a heart attack or need ICU for an accident.  

Kurt | 06 September 2021 - 08:56:30

@Foot, Thank you for educating me on Governor's function. So, he is a puppet, not of any importance, just a  mouthpiece? Thank you, Foot. Now I understand things better.

DeKaaskopp | 05 September 2021 - 22:52:33

@Foot   10 years?  Really ?  Wow,that means you won't see the return to those numbers of tourists anymore.

Foot | 05 September 2021 - 14:39:45

It will be 10 years before tourism in Thailand returns to resemble levels before COVID and 2014.  The sooner this reality is accepted, the sooner TAT will be completely re-staffed with intelligent individuals who can actually think,

Foot | 05 September 2021 - 14:36:11

@CaprtainJack69. You seem to ignore the math that once Thais are vaccinated with the 51% effective Sinovac, "everyone" isn't truly vaccinated. With 1/2 of Thais still vulnerable, life can't return to normal.

Foot | 05 September 2021 - 14:32:34

@Kurt. The governor really has nothing to do with it.  They come to Phuket to  for a year to improve (in the past) their resume and wait a year for the next transfer.  They have no knowledge or interest in Phuket.  Kurt, please get an education.

CaptainJack69 | 05 September 2021 - 13:02:05

Plenty of other countries are managing just fine. Life is back to pre-COVID normals. How? It's simple, once everyone is vaccinated it simply isn't an issue anymore. ALL other measures are just plugging an already very leaky damn. Yes we have to 'live with it' but that will mean vaccinating infants like we do for tetanus and typhoid. Vaccinate!

Kurt | 05 September 2021 - 12:46:28

International medical professionals not expect much Covid infection changes for the best until 2024. Major International Airlines came to same conclusion. So, now waiting for a bright new Phuket Governor who understand this and professional/determinded steering Phuket forward without nonsense flipflopping orders several times a week. Who not lost touch with with waterfall of given orders?

Kurt | 05 September 2021 - 11:27:51

In Sukhothai  province are vaccinations still rare. Small thinking ability Officialdom concentrates on Great BKK and tourist locations. Ignoring that domestic tourists go to tourist location from unvaccinated areas. That are the Thai who spread 'Delta' on Phuket after getting through unreliable Thai testing. ( with or without kick off). Massive bureaucracy is masking reality.

PJ | 05 September 2021 - 10:55:42

@JohnC. Not just Esarn. Many in the Covid epicentre of metro BKK are also not yet vaxed.   It didn’t help that huge numbers of doses (allegedly) disappeared from BK after vax appointments had already been set - only for a huge supply to emerge in Buriram.  Even in Esarn, it seems “miracles” can happen. 

PJ | 05 September 2021 - 10:34:40

Yes we need to live with Covid and gradually get jobs and the economy moving, but you can’t justify further opening on the gounds that severe cases have not exceeded 34 for the last month!   A month ago on 4th August the number was 18.  Ie ICU severe cases have DOUBLED in that month.  And we had a death or two.

JohnC | 05 September 2021 - 09:13:37

Still useless for many Thais who want to come back to Phuket. As an example, my wife has been stuck up in Esarn for almost 6 months now and still can't get vaccinated up there so she can't return here. Once again the poorer areas are the lowest priority for assistance. 


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