Island isolation needed to save Phuket, save Sandbox, says Governor

Island isolation needed to save Phuket, save Sandbox, says Governor

Phuket Governor Narong woonciew has defended the move to deny all but essential travel to Phuket starting next Tuesday (Aug 3), saying it is the only way to save the Phuket Sandbox scheme, and save Phuket’s hopes of economic recovery.

Speaking at a special meeting called yesterday (July 30), Governor Narong said that the raft of new restrictions imposed on the island was the only way to crucial rising number of local infections on the island.

From Tuesday (Aug 3) only essential deliveries, emergency workers and people conducting essential business on Phuket, including travelling to Phuket to leave via the airport, will be allowed onto the island. The order, announced late on Thursday, is currently set to remain in effect from Tuesday until Aug 16.

That order followed a raft of more closures and a ban on the movement of migrant workers into and out of Phuket that came into effect yesterday, which followed earlier restrictions issued on Tuesday.

Among the closures this week was Central Phuket shopping mall, which on Tuesday closed for one week, until next Monday (Aug 2), after an “infected case”, as Phuket officials like to call COVID-positive people, was confirmed to have been at the mall (either as a staffer or a customer, the information from Phuket officials was not clear).

As of today the Phuket City Fresh Market has been ordered closed again for one week, from today to next Friday (Aug 6) and Bangkok Hospital is restricting visitors to one person per patient at a time.

Governor Narong yesterday pointed out that the spike infections, which has breached more than 200 in over the past seven days, were from local transmissions, not imported by Phuket Sandbox arrivals.

Among some 13,000 arrivals via the Phuket Sandbox scheme, only 30, or 0.4%, have tested positive for COVID-19, Governor Narong said.

“Among those, many of them were grouped together in their own clusters,” he added.

“Therefore, all the measures taken are being done in order to save Phuket, save the Phuket Sandbox and save Thailand. If we do not speed up our efforts to control the spread of infections could have a far-reaching impact,” Governor Narong noted.

“Because there are no infections being brought to Phuket from outside in any way, in terms of domestic travel, if travel were still allowed to Phuket, it would be more difficult to control the spread of infections.

“Therefore, such announcements and orders must be issued to control travel in the country to have only those who really need it. This is how to save Phuket, save Sandbox and save Thailand,” he repeated.

Governor Narong yesterday pointed out that, at that time, a total of 12,599 people had arrived through the Phuket Sandbox project from July 1-29, with a total of 298,858 room nights in  bookings made from July 1 through September.

Of those, bookings for 192,403 room nights had been made for July, about 63% of the total room-nights booked through the Phuket Sandbox scheme so far, he said.

A further 98,735 room nights, or 32% of the total Sandbox accommodation bookings so far, had been booked for August and 7,720 room nights, or 3% of the total so far, had been booked for September, he added.

However, the rate of increase in the number of bookings is already easing, said Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. Hotel reservations for August over the last few days had grown 10%, down from more than 15% per day prior to the latest outbreak, he told the Bangkok Post.

Mr Siripakorn said the average length of stay per traveller is 11 nights, while only 200 travellers chose to visit Bangkok after completing a 14-day mandatory stay on the island, meaning the latest provincial order to restrict domestic travel should not affect the majority of guests.

Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association’s southern chapter, said some tourists expressed concerns over the virus situation, so hoteliers are reassuring them about prevention measures in place in the province.

There have not been any reports of early checkouts from guests in the Phuket sandbox, Mr Kongsak said.

Mr Kongsak said more hotels plan to reopen in the final quarter, which will help drive the occupancy rate to 20%.

Meanwhile, Bangkok Airways has suspended its Phuket-Samui direct flights from Aug 3-16. The flights were to allow Sandbox tourists take advantage of the “7+7 island quarantine” offered through the Sandbox scheme, spending seven days in Phuket then seven days on Samui.

Closer to home, the plan to launched the “Phang Nga – Andaman Sandbox”, also promoted as the “Sandbox 7+7 to Phang Nga” campaign, has already been postponed to Aug 15, notably just one day before the current order to isolate Phuket is set to expire.

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