The idea of shutting down the island if infections started to soar on the mainland was floated as far back as last year when local business leaders were drafting plans to reopen the island to tourists. However, the idea back then was too soon for Phuket, too soon to be accepted by Bangkok, and too soon for the rest of the world, and locally even received a lot of harsh criticism. Today, the idea is much welcomed.
The imminent threat of infections skyrocketing across Phuket comes from the mainland, not from Sandbox arrivals, as Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew rightly pointed out on Friday – but that was obvious two weeks ago. In the coming two weeks we will see just how well Phuket health officials can actually contain the spread of infections already on the island.
In real terms Phuket can ill afford to lose what gains have been made by the Sandbox scheme, much more than just a loss of face of another failed scheme. Accommodation bookings by travellers looking to arrive under the Sandbox requirements are already slowing down, and the number of arrivals for July hit 26% short of the lofty goal of 18,000 touted for July.
Meanwhile, national tourism figures have openly admitted that Thai domestic tourists were expected to play a major part in restarting Phuket’s tourism industry, with 548,000 “person-visits” expected during the third quarter, generating an approximately B5.51bn in revenue for the economy – but those people aren’t coming yet, not because of the number of infections in Phuket but because of infections in their own provinces and the nationwide restrictions on inter-provincial travel.
Of note, Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, who also serves as the Minister of Commerce, was told at a meeting during his visit to Phuket in March that the average income in Phuket had plunged to B1,900 a month. Mr Jurin has not returned to Phuket since, and the only boost to the island’s economy in the months since then has been the launch of the Phuket Sandbox scheme.
At this stage Phuket has very little to lose by isolating itself from all but essential arrivals from the mainland, and the Delta variant spreading rife in more than a dozen provinces has proved difficult to contain, just like elsewhere in the world. The ‘Third Wave’ has finally reached Phuket. How well we deal with it is up to us.