Airport Chief Disputes Reports of French Tourists ‘Snuck in’

Officials take part in a health screening drill at Phuket International Airport on Sept. 8, 2020.
Officials take part in a health screening drill at Phuket International Airport on Sept. 8, 2020.

PHUKET — Officials on Wednesday said two foreign tourists were allowed to visit the country amid travel restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, but an airport director said their travel was in accordance with existing regulations.

The two French nationals chartered a private jet to Phuket island, where they spent 14 days at a quarantine hotel in Phuket before departing for Cambodia, Phuket Airport director Thani Chuangchu said in an interview.

“It’s just the same as those who arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport,” Thani said. “They went through all the screening procedures, spent 14 days in quarantine, and no coronavirus was found on them.”

The French duo reportedly flew into the country on the same flight with two Thai returnees on Aug. 14. They didn’t leave their hotel during their quarantine, and the two immediately left the country upon spending 14 nights on Aug. 29, Thani said.

He also dismissed media reports claiming that the two foreigners were “snuck in” by local authorities to experiment with the proposal of “Phuket Model,” which called for a partial border reopening for tourism.

“We didn’t announce to the public earlier since it was only an ordinary arrival,” Thani said, adding that the trip was approved by the government’s pandemic response center.

Reports published by Thai PBS and MGR Online said the tourists arrived in secret as part of an evaluation of the Phuket Model proposal.

“We are keeping our doors ajar. If there’s no test and we let our doors wide open, we won’t be able to handle them,” Phuket Governor Narong Woonchiew was quoted as saying.

But Thani said the governor was actually referring to yesterday’s drill at the airport, where airport staff rehearsed health screening procedures in preparation for the arrival of foreign tourists.

The country’s airspace is closed to most international flights since April, and only Thais and certain groups of foreign nationals may fly into the country. The government said it’s planning to reopen Thailand to tourism from overseas, but no action has been taken so far.