The news came via a live press conference broadcast online yesterday (Jan 4), headed by an all-star cast of Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew, Phuket Vice Governor Pichet Panapong, Phuket Provincial Public Health Office (PPHO) Chief Kusak Kukiattikoon, Vachira Hospital Director Weerasak Lorthongkham.
Also joining the press conference were Bhummikitti Raktaengam, President of the Phuket Tourist Association; Maj Gen Sermphan Sirikong, Commander of the Phuket Provincial Police; Rewat Areerob, President of the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor) and Nanthasiri Ronnasiri, Director of the Phuket office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Governor Narong explained that the concerns were being addressed over the rising number of COVID infections on the island.
“Due to the situation of COVID-19 cases increasing during the New Year with more than 100 new cases each day, the province [provincial government] has prepared and implemented rigorous measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic in accordance with the public health procedures. Therefore, all relevant parties have been invited to clarify the situation so people understand and to continue to drive the economic development of Phuket to move forward,” he said.
“According to the report from the public health team, it is clear that most of the infected people in Phuket are Green patients [with only mild symptoms]. Therefore, the treatment approach is to use the Home Isolation system or self-treatment at home, and for people to follow treatment guidelines advised through Aunjai Clinic,” he added.
“And to prepare Hotel Isolation, hospitals and a field hospital to accommodate both foreign tourists and Thai people. Currently, there are 728 rooms of Hotel Isolation and Hospitel that have been evaluated, but the target is 1,000 rooms to accommodate the situation at the moment,” Governor Narong continued.
“Phuket has to plan to control local and foreign infected persons, which must work with the Ministry of Public Health and all sectors,” Gov Narong said.
“All actions taken must be approved by the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee,” he said.
Vice Governor Pichet explained the problem simply: “At present, there are a lot of green patients infected in Phuket, therefore the number of Hotel Isolation and hospitels is not enough.
“Phuket Province will need to find more Hotel Isolation facilities and hospitals to provide comprehensive care for tourists or other infected people in Phuket,” he said.
“As for tourists who have problems with insurance expenses, if there is no treatment facility available, they will be taken to the field hospital for treatment,” he added.
PPHO Chief Dr Kusak pointed out that most of the infected were tourists, and nearly all of them were infected with Omicron.
“The number of COVID-19 cases among foreign tourists has increased this week as there are approximately 4,000 tourists entering Phuket per day,” he noted.
“There are 136 cases [confirmed as infected with Omicron] plus 31 yesterday still waiting for confirmation from the Department of Medical Sciences from Bangkok,” he added.
However, nearly all the infected tourists were Green patients, experiencing only mild symptoms of infection, Dr Kusak said.
“So when infected people must go through the quarantine process to treat each person for at least 10 days, the Phuket Provincial Public Health Office has formulated a plan to prepare for various matters such as treatment beds and additional treatment sites to accommodate infected people,” he continued.
“This is a preparation to support the epidemic situation after the number of infected people increased,” he said.
The “preparation” comes after The Phuket News yesterday received several reports of tourists calling hospitals to report themselves as infected only to be told that the hospital is “full”, despite the PPHO itself reporting just yesterday that of 1,964 hospital beds in total available across the island, only 699 were occupied.
The move to hold infected tourists in their hotel rooms was never announced before the policy was put into effect.
“The problem we face at the moment is that it is more difficult to find the Hotel Isolation and the hospitels due to the fact that hotels are open to tourists,” D5r Kusak explained.
“The PPHO is aiming to find 1,000 rooms for Hotel Isolation and hospitels. Currently, 66 hotels [offering 780 rooms] have submitted their intentions to join the Hotel Isolation and Hospitel project, with 728 rooms passing the assessment,” he said.
“Any hotel that agrees to allow the infected person to stay during the quarantine can notify PPHO for an assessment,” Dr Kusak said yesterday.
“The Phuket Provincial Public Health Office is in the process of considering how to proceed in order not to affect operators in the area.
“There will be no closing of entertainment venues during this period, but we will take measures to control infected tourists more than ever,” he assured.
“As for business operators in Patong, after finding Omicron infections in the Soi Bangla area, I am worried because people have just invested the money to reopen before the new year.
“If they are ordered to close again, it would do damage. If they are closed now, business owners would not be happy because they just spent the money in order to reopen only a month ago,” Dr Kusak said.
TAT Phuket Director Ms Nanthasiri pointed out that the four-day holiday over the New year had provided a much-needed boost to the island’s economy
“During the four-day New Year’s holiday the income from tourism in Phuket amounted to B1.36 billion,” she said.
“In addition, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has launched international public relations campaigns to make foreigners confident that Phuket can successfully organize activities in the COVID situation under good disease control measures.
“Phuket has 100,400 hotel rooms available, and now occupancy is about 70%, or about 70,000 rooms,” she added.
Dr Weerasak Lorthongkham, Director of Vachira Phuket Hospital, called on local residents who test positive for COVID-19, now most likely to be the Omicron variant, to contact the Aunjai Clinic for advice and instructions on what action to take.
“Most of the infected people in Phuket are Green patients, so treatment guidelines will use the Home Isolation system or ‘treat yourself from home’ is another option for those infected with no symptoms,” he said.
“Just follow the treatment guidelines from the Aunjai Clinic,” he said.
Vachira Hospital deputy director Dr Witita Jang-iam urged people who discover that they are infected to call the Aunjai Clinic at 076-254200.
The clinic provides ‘one-stop contact, inquiry and coordination services’, with 20 service call lines providing comprehensive management of COVID-19 cases, she said.
“Those who test positive by ATK [antigen test kit] will be confirmed and undergo testing, diagnosing, treatment services,” she said.
“Initial diagnosis and radiographic examination by specialized medical personnel in each branch, in cases that can be self-quarantined at home, in the community, at the hotel. There will be a team for initial symptomatic care, including providing favipiravir as needed, along with daily monitoring and counseling,” she added.