The support comes as the official Songkran Thai New Year festivities in Patong were cancelled, along with the annual Phuket Bike Week event.
Even the popular Lard Yai Phuket Walking Street night market in Phuket Town has been put on hold until further notice, and school summer camps at all 19 municipalities and local administrations in Phuket have been cancelled. The “camps”, basically day care for young children, are essential for working parents over the Thai school holidays, which begin today (Mar 13).
The support for cancelling any events that cause large crowds also comes as Dr Chayanon Pucharoen, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at PSU Phuket’s Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism, estimates that the huge plunge in the number of international tourist arrivals to Phuket (see page 8) has already cost Phuket B12-B15 billion in lost tourism revenue.
The cancellation of major events will cost Phuket even more, Dr Chayanon said.
“It is already bad, and March is not going to get any better. It might be even worse in April, but it is hard to predict at this stage,” he added.
The number of international tourists coming to Phuket is likely to fall further after Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda on Wednesday (Mar 11) announced that Thailand had cancelled the grant of visa on arrival for 18 countries and visa exemption for three others in order to contain the spread of the virus.
Gen Anupong said all arrivals from the countries affected have to apply for visas at a Thai embassy or consulate and travel with a medical certificate to prove they are not infected with the virus, reported the Bangkok Post.
At the time of going to press, whether the cancellation applied to Russian tourists was in doubt as the Royal Thai Embassy in Moscow had posted a notice plainly explaining that the new requirements do not apply to holders of Russian passports.
“The latest news on the Thai Government’s decision to temporarily suspend visa on arrival (VoA) for 18 countries DOES NOT affect holders of Russian passports. Russians can still visit Thailand for 30 days without visa,” the embassy said in a statement on its website.
How much that development will cost Phuket remains to be seen, as according to statistics by the Ministry of Tourism & Sports 1,483,453 Russians visited Thailand last year, generating B103.78bn for the country.
In March 2019 alone, 194,471 Russians visited the Kingdom, generating B13.224bn.
Other coronavirus countermeasures deployed this week included the Department of Disease Control (DDC) announcing plans to impose compulsory measures for all inbound arrivals, including notifying personal information and contact information such as mobile phone numbers and email addresses, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) requiring travellers from the COVID-19 infected South Korea, China, Italy, Iran, Macau and Hong Kong to produce medical certificates prior to boarding their flights to Thailand to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob on Monday (Mar 9) said travellers from the six areas who fail to show their health certificates to authorities before boarding their flights to Thailand will not be allowed to continue their journey.
Protective measures in Phuket over the past week saw more than 2,000 passengers and crew on board the Costa Fortuna cruise liner being refused permission to disembark in Patong last Friday (Mar 6) because 64 Italians on board had left Italy in the previous 14 days. The refusal followed the Thai government just one day earlier instituting a 14-day quarantine on all people arriving from the six “risk areas” above.
Just days later, Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup confirmed to The Phuket News that all official Songkran celebrations in the tourism town had been cancelled.
However, Mayor Chalermluck stressed, “People still can enjoy their water play on Bangla Rd. We don’t have any authority to ban people playing with water during the festival. They can if they want to.”
Thanusak Phungdet, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce (PCC), openly supported the move to cancel mass-gathering events.
“I prefer Phuket to close down for at least two months. It is better than an outbreak affecting Phuket for 10 months,” he said.
However, he added, “But I can’t make any decisions about this. Protection is the most important factor right now, as is confidence in Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana. It is his job to make people feel confident about his actions.
“For now, it doesn’t matter whether people are holding small or big gatherings. We must be concerned about who joins the gatherings. We need to control this, and people need to avoid exposing themselves to risk.”
But the sense of fear is rising, and not helping, Mr Thanusak noted, when asked about the move this week by Kasikornbank (Kbank) to close all its currency-exchange booths and have all staff involved in currency-exchange transactions to stay at home on a 14-day quarantine.
“That is the reaction of the bank, and people are worried about the coronavirus. It’s not necessary to close exchange booths, it does not help,” he said.
“For this they could just use hand sanitiser to protect their staff,” he added.
Sarayuth Mallam, Vice President of Government Relations at the Phuket Tourist Association, praised the move by organisers to cancel or postpone major events.
“Preventing large crowds at events attended by foreigners and Thais is good. It shows people are wary of the virus spreading in Phuket and want to avoid the risk of an outbreak,” he said.
However, Mr Sarayuth also pointed out that being careful did not mean people had to cancel all events.
“The coronavirus is serious, but I am not asking people to cancel all events. Happy activities should go on. There is no need to cancel every event or activity,” he said.
Bhuritt Maswongssa, General Manager of the Patong Resort Hotel and key member Tourism Development Committee of South Andaman Tourism Development Area under the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, agreed.
To Mr Bhuritt, it is the number of people joining events and where they come from that is important.
“Events with under about 30 people are fine. But any persons coming from any of the six risk areas must have confirmation from a hospital to show that they are not infected with the virus.
“People can still hold some events. It is up to the organiser and the host to make sure that people attending the event are not infected,” he said.