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Phuket Opinion: Phuket, land of the brave

PHUKET: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s visit to Phuket on Thursday might have irked more than a few people, but few could argue against what he said during his tour of the island. Beyond all the gush, a couple of pertinent sentences hit the mark.

opiniontourismCOVID-19economics
By The Phuket News

Sunday 4 July 2021, 09:00AM


Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha applauds a presentation at Central Phuket during his visit to Phuket on Thursday (July 1). Photo: PR Phuket

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha applauds a presentation at Central Phuket during his visit to Phuket on Thursday (July 1). Photo: PR Phuket

Phuket should be proud of its role in reopening the country to tourism, and as the prime minister openly recognised, it is a risk. The chances that Phuket will be exposed to some carrier bringing a version of the virus to the island are high, it is what we do about it that counts.

As indicated by Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew yesterday suspending the option of domestic visitors being able to quarantine on the island, instead of proving they are vaccinated or tested negative for COVID in the 72 hours before coming here, officials are now recognising that the risk includes people inside the country as well as those arriving from abroad.

PM Prayut also recognised the need to revive the economy, and that Phuket was “90% dependent” on tourism, describing the move to reopen the country to tourism an “urgent necessity”. The alarm bell truly sounded a few weeks ago when the Cabinet approved further borrowing B500 billion to fund the COVID relief measures – that’s on top of the B1 trillion borrowed last year. Then this past week the government launched B50bn in special government funds to fund the “war effort”. That is as poor an indicator as anyone could expect.

Average per capita income in Phuket was finally recognised as falling below the poverty line in February this year despite widespread food relief efforts already underway across the island more than six months earlier. As is normal with bad news, local officials have not been forward in reporting just how bad the state of financial hardship is on the island, but at the same time are very happy to promote the volume of “life bags” of essential items being handed out to families in need. There’s nothing quite like trying to look good while not admitting anything is wrong.

In February, officials deferred delivering the bad news to Dr Chayanon Pucharoen, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the Prince of Songkla University (PSU) Phuket Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism, who deserves respect for stepping forward.

HeadStart International School Phuket

However, just over a week after the news was announced Dr Chayanon confirmed directly with The Phuket News that his comments were misrepresented. The “pain point” was already being felt by people across Phuket, he said. No reports since then have confirmed whether the average per capita income in Phuket has improved at all.

Reopening Phuket, and the country, to tourists is a “great challenge”, as PM Prayut noted on Thursday. This of course does not provide any excuse for the incredibly late vaccination drive or the calamity of bureaucratic bungling so far in rolling out the rules and requirements for tourist coming to Phuket.

But Prayut was right in that the time has come, whether we like it or not. Phuket Sandbox is a test model, it was never intended to be a mass reopening, nor could it have ever been expected to have been. As we are all now hearing repeatedly, if the Sandbox model proves to be a success, then it can be expanded, and the Oct 1 reopening of other destinations in the country now appears to have always been Bangkok’s real goal.

This might explain why Phuket’s pleas last year to reopen to tourism independent from the rest of the country fell on deaf ears. Ironically, Prayut this week gave Phuket’s ability to be isolated from the mainland in case of outbreak as a key reason for choosing Phuket for the Sandbox launch. That was exactly the same reason given by leading Phuket figures for being able to reopen Phuket to tourists last year.

Regardless, it would be more comfortable for Phuket people if there were a wider base of people vaccinated on the island before reopening to tourists, something other destinations in the country will not have to cope with as they will have three more months to vaccinate their people. People in Phuket will just have to be braver than their compatriots. It’s a pity Prayut himself wasn’t brave enough to point that out.

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Dick | 05 July 2021 - 10:52:27

CCSA/TAT totally missed the point in the opening strategy. These international travellers are super healthy - all vaccinated, tested negative.  Yet, the government treats them as though they are coming for body checks!!! Risk to opening is actually about opening pubs and bars to welcome them- and THE LOCALs.  Such increases local infection.  If Phuket were to shut down later, don't blame trave...

Xi_Virus | 04 July 2021 - 20:21:00

Xhan-o-xha and his heroic speech! What do you expect from an uneducated man who cares only about his bank account?
His kids driving luxury cars but are jobless! 

And somebody pull the plug of this Xhinese Top Gun down below, please. 

No Thais want Xinovac. They are forced to take these Xi vaccines or risk their jobs. 

Top Gun: I suggest you fly back to WUHAN.

Sandbar | 04 July 2021 - 16:31:16

Fake news. The majority of Thais have no confidence in this man he calls himself PM. Democratically not appointed by the people, he plays on words with no real substance and monetary committment for the future of Thailand except tourism? So many plans...all false!

CaptainJack69 | 04 July 2021 - 13:50:56

Travel within the EU is already possible and will soon be wide open with their vaccine passport system. No tests, no insurance, no special hotels, no confusing certificates, just open travel. If we are 'brave' on Phuket then EU citizens must be absolute hero's. One thing's for sure there's more risk from domestic arrivals than internationals.

Christy Sweet | 04 July 2021 - 12:32:34

And even that alleged  70% is about 15% too short of a 85% requirement for "herd immunity" -of a vaccine that may offer no protection whatsoever against the coming Delta, and even that variant has already mutated within India. 

Kurt | 04 July 2021 - 11:32:52

....   or they will have a decent dinner at night.

Kurt | 04 July 2021 - 11:27:28

If Phuket as sandbox trial want to become successful, it should ask all these thai Ministers and their plane loads flock to stop constant flying in/out Phuket from Bangkok, as Great BKK is obviously the top spiking spreader of Covid-19. Just pick your variant. Besides self kick trips with F & B what actually should have provided to Phuket people who don't know in morning or they will have ...

maverick | 04 July 2021 - 10:18:59

Contrary to what is stated in this piece the vaccination efforts have been a resounding success I know of no Thais who want the vaccine but cannot get, likewise with farangs,  most of us have had the first jab which provides significant protection from infection through casual contact (low viral load), and all medical staff and critical workers are safely vaccinated - and the drive goes on ....

Christy Sweet | 04 July 2021 - 10:17:47

It's careless hotel staffers I worry about most and the dozens of lapses that will occur every week, if not daily. Due to an Immigration SNAFU I was unable to get a vaccination and face shields are not to be found suddenly. Argh 

Dave_C | 04 July 2021 - 09:23:29

The stated requirement was 70% fully vaccinated yet they opened up with less than 50% fully vaccinated.
IMHO the governments of the world have really made a mess of this pandemic with marxism like controls. 
Open up Phuket fully and let the public make their own decisions. Phuket is in crisis and needs to restart urgently. The government's task is to provide the vaccines not to over govern.

 

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