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.