Services to most destinations previously served before the lockdown are now limited from one to a few a day, with buses to and from Bangkok not to start until tomorrow and Tuesday.
This is not only because of the lack of passengers, but also because operators need time to restart their businesses with whatever staff and finances they have left, and because the ‘new normal’ health guidelines affecting travel have literally halved the number of passengers each bus can carry.
Bus operators now have to rethink their entire bottom line and determine what remains viable. The same applies to hotels, restaurants and any other type of businesses on the island that are now allowed to reopen but one way or another depend on some form of tourism.
The only businesses that can restart basic operations are those still can afford to pay some staff and overheads for at least basic operations to begin with. Those who managed to save enough for this particular rainy day deserve credit. However, it is expected that many businesses will remain closed.
People have been screaming out loud for weeks for officials to reopen the beaches and the airport as a top priority to open the door for the island’s tourism industry to restart. As of now, Phuket’s beaches are set to reopen on Tuesday (June 9) and all noises so far indicate that the airport will reopen to domestic flights come June 16.
It is easy to argue that any tourists arriving would be better than none, yet even if officials reopened the beaches two weeks ago it would have been for the benefit of only people already on the island. Likewise, the airport could have been reopened two weeks ago and how many actual tourists would have arrived? Even if the central government sticks to its current ‘best scenario’ plan to reopen the country to inbound commercial passenger flights after June 30, how many tourists will come?
Please do not misundertsand this point: Businesses and tourist attractions must be allowed to reopen as soon as practicably and safely as possible. The sooner the long-term recovery is allowed to get underway, the better. But this pandemic has hit economies hard worldwide. It will take time for people to have enough money to travel, nevermind Phuket being ready to serve them. We are a long way from getting out of this hole.
Right now government support for businesses is just as critical for helping the economy get back on its feet as it is for helping those without work and deprived of any form of income – and for lightening the burden on the plethora of food relief efforts that are rightly so still underway across the island. Many people have lost their jobs, and those lucky enough to have returned to work in the past few weeks are very unlikely to be on full pay, and will have to wait for that vital first post-lockdown paycheck.
Whether or not people agree with any of the lockdown restrictions rolled out, and now being rolled back, the restrictions in Thailand are being lifted relatively much faster than many other places in the world that also were put under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But even at the current pace of returning life to ‘normal’, until economies elsewhere also start to recover, the top priority here and now must be relief efforts, for businesses already under great pressure and for the basic rights of food security. That is where we are right now.