All the explanations came on Thursday (Dec 2), one day after arrivals from eight African nations were banned from entering the country. By that time 17 of the 50-plus arrivals still staying in Phuket had been located. Just one day later, all but one had been located. That is good, quick work.
However, Phuket Public Health Office Chief Kusak Kukiattikoon himself on Thursday, while telling the public to not panic, that arrivals from the eight countries had been banned from entering Phuket since Nov 27, four days earlier. Why no action was taken in those four days remains to be explained.
Thailand, and Phuket in particular, has long been in the international spotlight for its policies to restart tourism while trying to keep it residents safe from imported infections. As noted by diplomatic representatives in the country, foreign governments having been watching with a keen eye since the launch of the Phuket Sandbox model.
Other than unsustainable outright long-term quarantine, without the scientific development of quick, accurate, relatively cheap tests it is difficult to foresee any way of reopening international borders to travel without risk. It is now openly understood that being vaccinated helps to prevent infections from becoming serious and helps massively to reduce the incidence of spread of infection, but the person still must be infected for the vaccine to work.
At this stage it would be fair to say that very few countries have done any better than Thailand. Many countries also dependent on tourism have fully reopened their borders only to shut them down fully again. Thailand is trying to avoid that.
This is not to say the policies in place are ideal, and any policies, even at either extreme of a full reopening or another shutdown, will leave some people unhappy. So far, there is no win-win in fighting COVID, and it has long been the case that the solution is political. Finding the right balance most people support as acceptable is the only answer anyone can try to find right now.
Omicron will come. At last count the variant had been identified in at least 38 countries, most of those in the past week alone. Phuket will not be any different.
Ramping up response times in tracking down and testing potential new variant carriers must be improved for people in Phuket, tourists and residents alike, to have any sense of safety through precaution – and Phuket as a safe haven from widespread COVID outbreak is one of its biggest selling points right now.