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Roll the drums Phuket. Prepare the balloons. Chalong Underpass opens Friday.

Thaiger

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Roll the drums Phuket. Prepare the balloons. Chalong Underpass opens Friday. | Thaiger

But it’s not Friday yet and there have been plenty of other delays. Chalong Circle’s 350 metre underpass should be open on Friday according to local highway officials.

The roadworks have profoundly changed business and movement of locals in the southern part of the island for nearly four years. Many businesses were forced to move, others went broke, some residents had to move. Getting through the mess has certainly changed the way people moved around and through Chalong and Rawai.

Electrical systems are now being tested and are the final part of the underpass’s systems to check before the all-clear is given to open to long-awaited two-lane road.

But it will take months, if not years, for the local community to recover from the redirections, delays, blocked traffic and extended journeys that could take hours to get through the construction mess.

The underpass will open on Friday, one lane in each direction. The two 3.5 metre lanes will be divided by orange plastic poles. The Highways Department is assuring drivers that the lanes will be wide enough for large trucks and buses.

The underpass is the longest of the four already constructed around the island. At 350 metres in length, curved along the way, it is longer than the Darasamuth, Samkong, Airport or Bang Khun underpasses.

The new clock tower sitting on the original ‘Chalong Circle’, called the Golden Lotus Tower, cost 3 million baht and is also set to be ready by the opening date. As of 5pm on Wednesday afternoon the clocks had stopped on the new tower – perhaps part of the electrical works underway. Or perhaps not.

Roll the drums Phuket. Prepare the balloons. Chalong Underpass opens Friday. | News by Thaiger

The new Golden Lotus Tower – PHOTO: Sue Ultmann

Roll the drums Phuket. Prepare the balloons. Chalong Underpass opens Friday. | News by Thaiger

A photo, mid construction, of the mess that will now be called Chalong Underpass – Phuket 9

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Tourism

Thailand’s 3rd wave wreaks havoc on the Tourism Restart Plan – where are we now?

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Thailand’s 3rd wave wreaks havoc on the Tourism Restart Plan – where are we now? | Thaiger
PHOTO: Empty beaches of Hua Hin - AJ Wood

OPINION by Andrew J Wood

Thailand Ministers ponder the next steps to re-start it’s massive tourism industry, initially set for July 1, 2021 in Phuket. The plan may need to be overhauled as Phuket struggles to immunise the whole island in the wake of the third wave of hotspots. Phuket, prior to the third wave had already secured more than 100,000 doses and planned to receive an additional 930,000 doses by June.

This would be enough for 70% of the population – the target needed to achieve herd immunity. The spike in Covid-19 cases has interrupted this plan, as vaccines must also be allocated to other provinces urgently to help fight the latest outbreaks.

Not deterred, the Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn said he plans to meet next week with all relevant agencies to discuss the reopening plan, previously set for July this year. Eighteen provinces have now been declared red zones, with a partial lockdown and stay at home order. The alert warning was also raised across the rest of the country to orange, in all the remaining 59 provinces many of which had previously been green and considered safe.

Deciding to ignore expert warnings, the government allowed the Songkran holidays to go ahead, even adding an extra day. However no mass gatherings or water splashing were allowed.

(Songkran is the Thai New Year celebration which typically lasts 3-4 days, leading to a mass exodus of cities like Bangkok).

Last year, due to Covid-19, the holiday was cancelled. As a result of the holiday this year, a few outbreaks in Bangkok allowed the virus to spread widely. The Bangkok outbreaks centred on entertainment places; restaurant-pubs and nightclubs around the Thonglor area, plus a high-society wedding at a new riverside hotel, whose guest list included a number of government Ministers and prominent business leaders.

The Covid virus from these few hotspots were quickly spread throughout the whole country, as people returned to their homes for the holidays. Unfortunately this was a perfect storm for spreading the virus. Up until this point, since the beginning of the pandemic, Thailand had only recorded 28,889 cases and 94 deaths as at April 1, 2021. Eighteen days later this has risen to 43,742 cases and 104 deaths. An increase in cases of 51%.

During my recent visit to Hua Hin, empty beaches were very much in evidence already with the third wave leading to mass cancellations. Some resorts, previously 70-80% occupied, saw domestic arrivals decimated. Already hurting from a lack of international visitors, this latest outbreak was a most unwelcome guest.

The question of re-opening Thailand to Tourism, starting with Phuket, has obviously taken a knock backwards.

“The key determinant is insufficient vaccines, we are concerned about the re-opening timeline. We still need to discuss the vaccine administration plan. If the herd immunity goal cannot be achieved, we may have to consider opening only certain areas in Phuket”.

However, to continue with the same plan, even with restricted zones, will not be easy as long as the country still has increasing new daily infections, said Minister Pipat.

“Most importantly, we still have to hear from other countries that we already started travel bubble negotiations with about their confidence regarding the same timeline.”

Like Hua Hin, hotels in the North reported cancellations of more than 70% with Chiang Mai a cause for concern and currently experiencing increased coronavirus cases. Prior to the pandemic, the province was a popular destination to celebrate Thai New Year.

Regrettably Minister Pipat is in self-quarantine after being in close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19. The Minster fortunately has already received his first vaccination jab last month (AstraZeneca) and will remain in isolation until next week when all tests are complete (3 swab tests).

ANDREW J WOOD

Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skål International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

The content of this article reflects the writer and does not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of The Thaiger.

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Environment

Survey underway as experts attempt to save James Bond island from erosion

Maya Taylor

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Survey underway as experts attempt to save James Bond island from erosion | Thaiger
PHOTO: Michaela Loheit on Flickr

Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is working with other environmental departments to determine how best to save a popular tourist attraction. Khao Ta Pu, commonly known as James Bond island, in the southern province of Phang Nga, is at risk of collapse, due to seawater erosion. The ministry is working with counterparts in the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, in efforts to save the islet.

The natural marine park landmark, a chunk of 20-metre high limestone, got its nickname after featuring in the James Bond movie, “The Man with the Golden Gun”, in 1974. It is part of Ao Phang Nga National Park. The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Varawut Silpa-archa, says efforts are underway to determine the extent of seawater erosion.

“The ministry is working with the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation to survey the islet and surrounding areas to find ways to prevent erosion that might cause it to collapse. We are adapting the techniques used in surveying damage of limestone at Mu Koh Angthong National Marine Park in Surat Thani province and at the Pun Yod Rock Castle in Satun province.”

Varawut is hopeful the islet’s foundation can be strengthened without impacting its natural beauty.

“A 3D scanner, marine seismic scanner, and echo sounder have been deployed to gather necessary information. Preliminary estimation suggests that we can reinforce the islet’s foundation without jeopardising the scenery. Furthermore, we are establishing a monitoring programme with cooperation from local communities to track changes of weather and marine conditions in the area that might affect the landmark.”

Last October, a large chunk broke off Koh Mae Urai, near Phi Phi island in the southern province of Krabi. The huge piece broke off in 2 sections, estimated to weigh around 30,000 to 50,000 tonnes, and collapsed onto a coral reef popular with scuba divers.

SOURCE: Inquirer.net

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Australia and New Zealand welcome the first passengers in the southern travel bubble

Tim Newton

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Australia and New Zealand welcome the first passengers in the southern travel bubble | Thaiger

Whilst travel bubbles remain a bureaucratic nightmare for most SE Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand have opened their first green lanes since April last year, nearly 400 days. For the two countries it allows family and friends to re-unite. For New Zealand it opens the gates for its largest chunk of tourists. In 2019 some 1.5 million tourists visited New Zealand from Australia.

The first flights landed this morning taking advantage of the quarantine-free travel bubble between the 2 countries.

The arrangement means that passengers can fly across the Tasman Sea without going through the mandatory Covid quarantine when they arrive at either end of their journey.

The New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern hailed the success of the 2 countries in coming to grips with Covid-19 and somewhat containing the spread of the virus, allowing the travel corridor to open today.

Australia is home to hundreds of thousands of New Zealand expats who regularly shuffled across the Tasman Sea on the 3 hour flights. Both Air New Zealand and Qantas were scheduling flights for the tentative re-opening to travel.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Deputy PM Michael McCormack says the Oz government remains in active discussions with Singapore as it looks to create another quarantine-free travel bubble.

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