Phuket tourism organisations have called for strict COVID-19 curbs to be relaxed to help with a quick recovery despite authorities struggling under the weight of a new surge of up to 200 infections a day.
Thanet Tantipiriyakit, president of the Phuket Tourism Council (PTC), said the latest cases were not caused by tourists but by local activities.
Disease control measures should be eased to allow visitors who are fully vaccinated and pass swab tests to enter the province to boost economic recovery, he said.
Chernporn Kanchanasaya, president of the Federation of Thai Industries’ Phuket Chapter, said September will be a pivotal month. It is essential to vaccinate as many local residents as possible to shield them from the virus.
She also said the Digital Economy Promotion Agency is expected to set up smart checkpoints to screen visitors in October.
“The best measures must be put in place before people are allowed to enter Phuket,” she said.
Sarayuth Mallam, the chief adviser to the PCT, said that if the island is put under a two-month lockdown, it could spell doom for the Phuket Sandbox scheme.
“Foreign consuls have said foreign visitors already feel deceived having arrived in Phuket. If the province is locked down again, no visitors will come at all,” Mr Mallam said.
“Tourists from Bangkok and Europe will disappear during the high season. We need to strike a balance to coexist with COVID-19,” he added.
Tourists from Europe want to dine and have a beer and wine together, but right now they can’t do anything. Many have said they have felt cheated for three months now.
“If Phuket was not ready, then why reopen? Without an easing of the curbs, all will be ruined,” Mr Mallam said.
Phuket governor Narong Woonciew said local authorities are stepping up efforts to contain the surge of infections as quickly as possible. Many of the new cases were detected using antigen test kits, whose results were confirmed again for accuracy by RT-PCR, he said.
Transmissions have increased among residents and migrant workers, he added.
With the spikes in local infections, the prospects for the Phuket Sandbox scheme may look dimmer now than when it first started, he said.
“We have to do everything we can to get through this difficult situation and hope case numbers will slow down”.
“We have to join forces and move forward. This is a life-and-death situation for the future of Phuket Sandbox,” the governor said.