Although there were only 25 foreign tourists on the flight, the new arrivals marked that the door is now open to tourists to stay in Phuket without serving the mandatory 14-day quarantine in Bangkok. They can do it in Phuket instead.
The arrivals also marked good news for all the hotels in Phuket that have spent the money and foregone domestic-tourist guests so they could serve as Alternative Local Quarantine (ALQ) venues. Many have these hotels have waited months for Bangkok to allow them to receive guests. Phuket currently has 21 hotels approved to operate as ALQs, offering 2,554 rooms for new arrivals to the island.
The milestone also marked the end of the hypocrisy of Bangkok officials months ago approving Phuket airport to process new arrivals, but forcing all tourists arriving in the country to serve their mandatory quarantine in the capital.
Whether or not tourists actually decide to come to Phuket or not is another matter entirely. As already recognised, the cost of travelling to Phuket for a holiday remains prohibitive for the many around the world, especially during the current global economic climate.
The 14-day quarantine remains a key issue, as pointed by leading tourism figures and even admitted by the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), which last month announced it was considering reducing the 14-day quarantine to 10 days, or even possibly to seven days.
The outbreak in Samut Sakhon, just outside of Bangkok, is now another factor that will play on the minds of potential tourists and the health officials currently playing a major role in running the country.
Yet, here rises an opportunity for Phuket over one simple fact: Phuket is an island. Thai administrators in Bangkok like to play on this both ways as and when it they think it best suits them. When they want to promote tourism, they call Phuket an island; when they want to talk about implementing policy, they decide to use the word province and make sure that the language used is inclusive as if to make sure everyone has the understanding the Phuket is inseparable from the rest of the country.
However, just as the policy to roll out local lockdowns where outbreaks are identified, such as in Samut Sakhon right now, aims to protect the rest of the country from infections, the same applies in reverse. Phuket can have its tourists without affecting anyone else.
As Phuket Provincial Health Office Chief Thanit Sermkaew has already explained, any outbreaks in Phuket will see localised lockdowns rolled out to contain the spread. On that, we can very sure that if Phuket suffered an islandwide outbreak that officials will soon see the whole island locked off from the country again.
So at this stage Thai officials recognise that Phuket could be shut off from the rest of the country to prevent any COVID infections from reaching the mainland, but do not want to recognise that the same thinking allows Phuket to receive international tourists without risking them to any potential exposure to those infected elsewhere.
Let’s see how long it takes for that penny to drop.