While many people would like to blame local officials for the whole mess, that is not entirely true.
When the order was issued, Thai news media outlets jumped on the news, claiming in very clear language that the face mask rule had been dropped. What ensued was a natural consequence of modern-day copy-and-paste “journalism”, leading to major news outlets erroneously reporting the same thing.
The Phuket News did not have that understanding (see original story by The Phuket News on Wednesday here). The original order did not say that the face mask rule had been dropped. However, it also did not clearly say that the rule remained in effect in general areas. The wording left a gap that allowed for the misunderstanding.
By Thursday, Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew issued a revision to the newly issued face mask order. He did not “reverse” any decision, despite what news outlets later reported. He did not step his bounds by issuing an order not sanctioned by Bangkok, and was not consequently “slapped”.
What did not help was the national office of state news agency NNT reporting that the Governor had reversed his decision – something that their local counterparts in the same organisation never reported. Having a state news agency report something that an official never did simply because of the number of other reports by media outlets saying that he did, is simply astounding.
What the Governor, and other local officials, did bungle is how clear information explained in simple terms is essential. This they have failed to learn from the height of the pandemic when new rules were being rolled out every week, and confusion ensued week after week.
What local officials have also failed to learn is how much English-speaking people around the world rely on non-government media to confirm and explain any new rules, as information announced in Thai is so often so confusing that hardly any outsider can make solid sense of it.
The CCSA in Bangkok knows this so well that throughout the pandemic they rightly had their regular reports presented by fluent English-speaking officials. If the information being announced was vague, then at least non-Thai speakers would know that.
Phuket, as a province looking to regain its place as the second-largest contributor to the national economy through tourism, must have clear information relayed in English, as that is the common language used between speakers whose native languages are different.
The Phuket News has for years called for important official announcements affecting foreigners to be made in English – by a fluent English speaker. What we saw this week is what happens when they aren’t.
What local officials also saw this week was the reaction to the news by foreigners. Everyone was expecting the face mask rule to be dropped, just as it has been in many countries around the world where they understand that the main danger of COVID-19 has passed. That didn’t happen. The angry reaction online was the result.
Foreign tourists are waiting for Thailand to catch up and finally “ease” its COVID restrictions to the point where they will be comfortable visiting here. They do not want to travel to a place where they are still living in the COVID world. That is what they want a holiday from.
Just as with the pointless Thailand Pass registration still required, which officials themselves now say are approved “automatically”, any extra bother a tourist needs to deal with to holiday here is just another psychological barrier and a reason to say, “No”.
Thailand needs to remove as many barriers to the decision-making process as possible, especially the rules that no longer make sense.
Perhaps someone should tell this to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha when he visits Phuket tomorrow (June 6).