Governor Narong Woonciew broke the news this morning (Oct 7) during his daily video Facebook broadcast.
The confirmation was obscured amid his promotion of the upcoming Vegetarian Festival and praise for the preparations made by officials and shrine administrators to ensure the festival complies with COVID-19 prevention measures.
Governor Narong said that the delay in allowing tourists to come was due to local people’s fears that foreign tourists will bring the COVID-19 virus to Phuket, and possibly spur a second wave of infections.
“I have already requested that foreigners arrive after the Vegetarian Festival ends.
The decision was made to make people feel more comfortable [with tourists arriving],” he said.
Governor Narong did not clarify when he requested the delay for foriegn tourists to be allowed to land in Phuket, and he did not confirm when the first tourists were expected to arrive.
However, sitting at the same table during the broadcast, Phuket Provincial Health Office (PPHO) deputy chief Dr Krit Sakulpat assured that “when Phuket receives tourists, we will have the correct processes to prevent [COVID-19] from spreading”.
He repeated this message several times.
Governor Narong explained that allowing the Vegetarian Festival to go ahead this year took a lot of discussion and was a decision not made lightly.
“Many Thais from other provinces will come to the festival, and there were concerns that foreigners coming to watch the festival may bring the virus to Phuket,” he said.
“I thank the Phuket shrines for their efforts to comply with the health protection measures needed. The decision whether or not to hold the festival was reconsidered again and again. It took a long time to think about [whether or not to hold] the Vegetarian Festival this year, but it will go ahead because it is a part of Phuket’s traditions,” Governor Narong said.
The news this morning follows Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn explaining to the press in Bangkok last Thursday (Oct 1) that a group of 150 Chinese nationals, all entering the country on the new Special Tourist Visa (STV), will be the first foreign tourists allowed into Thailand on a chartered flight under the conditional entry scheme for selected groups of foreigners, endorsed by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Mr Phipat explained the group will fly directly to Phuket on a chartered Air Asia flight, adding that another, smaller, group of seven Chinese businessmen will arrive at Suvarnabhumi International Airport on a private jet on the same day, reported state news agency NNT, operated by the Public Relations Department of Thailand.
It also follows the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Phuket office coordinating with local airlines to provide more flights to Phuket during the coming Vegetarian Festival from Oct 17-25, with the hope of boosting the number of tourists coming to the island.
Under the ‘new normal’ protocols, street processions during the festival will be held, but ‘Mah Song’ spirit mediums are to travel in vehicles and crowd control will be enforced.
Also, some of the main ceremonies have been banned, Phuket Vice Governor Wongsakorn Nunchukan confirmed late last month.
Also banned this year will be many of the ceremonial ablutions of faith and flesh – including fire-walking, bladed-ladder climbing, hot oil bathing and nail-bridge crossing.