BANGKOK — Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday said the proposal to reopen Phuket to foreign tourists will go ahead in spite of opposition from the local communities.
Anutin said the proposal of “limited tourism” on the southern resort island was already approved by the government’s pandemic response center, though PM Prayut Chan-o-cha will have the final say on when the foreign tourists can come in. Other government officials have also expressed safety concerns over the project.
“The government is ready to support and ease the measures,” Anutin told reporters. “This will allow entrepreneurs to generate income and retain jobs. We are ready, but all the stakeholders must help us too.”
Under the government’s latest proposal to restart the lucrative tourism industry, visitors from countries where there has been no outbreak for at least 30 days would be allowed to visit Phuket – but they must first spend 14 days in quarantine before they can roam around the island.
Anutin said tourists will be permitted to use resort facilities during their quarantine period.
“It doesn’t mean that we will allow tourists to wander around,” he said. “When they come in, we will designate areas such as the pool and beach where they can go. I think it’s okay since we already have screening measures in place and it will also generate revenue for local people.”
He also criticized those who opposed the plan, saying that the country should not live under virus scare forever.
“Those people who voice out the opposition, are they really Phuket people?” Anutin said. “We’ve said many times that we shouldn’t be afraid of COVID-19 to the point that we don’t want to do anything. I confirm that Thailand is ready to fight with COVID-19. If we’re ready, then let’s face it.”
But the president of a local tourism association said he opposes the government’s proposal since it could lead to a new wave of infection.
“The proposal is not airtight,” Sarayuth Mallum of Phuket Tourist Association said. “They only eye for money, but the safety of Phuket people is more important.”
Instead, he proposed his own version of “Phuket Model,” where only long stay tourists, students, and investors would be allowed to stay on the island rather than regular tourists.
“We should begin with these groups of visitors to test our containment measures,” Sarayuth said. “We must admit that we want tourists, but most people here are not confident in the government’s measures.”
Some local residents also disagreed with the idea. One said he could not bear the risk of another lockdown.
“If the outbreak returns, everything we have done will come to an end,” an airport chauffeur who asked to be only identified by his first name Surin said.
“We can still make a living from local tourists, though it’s not much compared to foreign tourists. We just began to recover, we can’t afford to have another lockdown.”
Tourism Authority of Thailand director Yuthasak Supasorn said yesterday he feared Thailand would risk a second wave of the pandemic if the government went ahead with the plan.
“We simply cannot afford a second wave of infections,” he was quoted as saying. “We have come this far in our efforts to stem the virus from spreading.”
Thailand’s 100-day record of no local transmission was broken on Thursday, after a prison inmate reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus inside a quarantine facility.
Although no one else tested positive for the virus so far, government officials have yet to conclude how the 37-year-old prisoner contracted the coronavirus.
In a somewhat unhelpful statement, senior health official Kiattiphum Wongrachit said the man was likely infected by either someone who recently traveled from overseas, or by someone who resides inside Thailand.
“Tests of those in close contact with him came out negative,” Kiattiphum said.
The government reported that no one was infected by the latest patient so far, while the country’s cumulative case of infection stands at 3,446 as of today.