The report just yesterday explaining that providing the required number of vaccine doses for Phuket to achieve herd immunity by July 1 is they key issue raises far too many questions – and will only give credence to those who have openly criticised the government for its late start in vaccinating its people.
After bungling the call to remove online comments by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit about the national handling of the mass-vaccination campaign, this is one scenario the current government would need to avoid.
Further, reallocating the vaccine doses already repeatedly declared as dedicated to Phuket to make the July 1 deadline possible would require backtracking on a promise to the people of Phuket, whose household incomes have been devastated by the loss of tourism.
It would also delay further restarting the economy of the one province in Thailand that previously made more money from tourism than any other province in the country outside of Bangkok. The government may be speaking loudly that the economy is “fine” and the government is not in running into debt yet, but that clock is ticking.
The big question is, if vaccinated tourists do start coming after July 1, what would be the likely consequences?
The mass-vaccination efforts in Phuket were, obviously, to protect the people of Phuket from being infected by international arrivals. The tourists will not be at risk, they’ll be vaccinated. Any tourists not vaccinated still coming – or travelling anywhere right now – will have already made their choice.
The trick now is to ask, protect the people of Phuket from what, exactly? It can’t be the B.1.1.7. variant originally from the UK, that one is already here. That strain is the variant amid the current surge in infections – and by July 1 the people of Phuket would either be vaccinated against it, or already exposed to it.
Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, as much loved and respected he is by the expat community, believes the current outbreak will be pretty much over within a month.
Following the previous outbreak experiences in other countries that would be true, except those countries instituted lockdowns to help slow the spread of the virus during secondary waves. Thailand has not, only adding to the probability that those not yet vaccinated one way or another will be exposed to the UK strain by the time July 1 arrives.
If vaccinated international tourists do start arriving from July 1, that will leave Phuket exposed to the other strains that tourists will bring, such as the South African, Brazilian and now Indian variants. This was always the case, and why mandatory tests on landing were always among the requirements for vaccinated tourists to be allowed into the country. Any red flags means mandatory quarantine.
What has been overlooked, intentionally or otherwise, is the role private entities can play in helping Phuket achieve herd immunity before July 1. For some reason that option keeps falling off the table when discussions are being held about what to do to vaccinate the people of Phuket, and all the tourism workers who will be on the frontline when arrivals are allowed.
Re-opening the island to international tourists by July 1 was always a push – doable, but a push. The #PhuketFirstOctober campaign was always an achievable reality. Regardless, there is very little reason not to keep aiming for the July 1 deadline for now – unless there is something about the availability of vaccine doses the people are not being told about.