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A Decade Ago: Songkran, road-safety and dive regulations

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Despite having significantly fewer people, fewer cars, fewer motorbikes and fewer tour buses on the island ten years ago, the Songkran ‘Days of Danger’ safety goals were much more reasonable.

As has become the trend over the last few years, Phuket is joining the nation in a ‘Seven Days of Danger’ campaign this year with the unrealistic provincial goal of having zero road deaths. However, in the April 15-21, 2006 issue of the Phuket Gazette, the goal was to have no more than four people die on the roads and no more than 53 people seriously injured during the 10-day campaign.

In 2004 and 2005, only three people died during the holiday campaign. However, hundreds were seriously injured. In recent years, with death tolls often outpacing the unrealistic goal of ‘zero deaths’ by day one of the campaign, even police officers seem to be throwing up their hands and saying, ‘We’re doing the best we can’.

Setting unrealistic goals in anything is a common mistake most of us suffer at the new year. How many people made it to the Chinese New Year carrying on their New Year resolutions? Anyone make it to the Thai New Year? So, officials are suffering a common problem that has simply crept in somewhere over the last 10 years.

The real problem is that unrealistic goals mean we are accepting failure. Nobody, and I mean nobody in their right mind, will haul the Phuket police over the coals if someone dies on the roads during this year’s safety campaign. With such an acceptance of failure, we are really only around the bend from creating an entire road-safety culture where failure is not only accepted, but expected.

As the April 15, 2006 issue of the Gazette went to print, we were already four days into the 10-day campaign with three dead and 43 injured. Unfortunately, sometimes we even fall short of realistic goals.

Though the goals have changed in Phuket over the years, some of the headlines haven’t. “Dive industry ‘requires more regulations’ – Palad,” reads a headline on page two of the Gazette a decade ago. The ongoing battle to understand and regulate the dive industry was a point of contention even back in 2006, with officers claiming that because of the dive industry’s importance to the tourism industry as a rich source of revenue, the government should regulate operators more rigorously.

The issue at the time – different from the current issue of diver safety, which has tarnished the industry over the last six months – was whether or not dive companies were being operated legally: were they registered businesses with Thai ownership, did they issue work permits for foreign employees, were they paying their taxes, and so on.

“We don’t think that these regulations [put in place to ensure dive shops are running legally] will deter dive operators from investing money in Thailand,” said Phuket’s Chief Administrative Officer (Palad) at the time.

“In the end, they’ll thank us, because we’ll get rid of the companies that give the industry a bad name.”
Ten years later, it’s easy to find lawfully registered dive company owners bemoaning the flyby operators that continue to damage the industry’s reputation. So, the Palad’s point remains valid.

Unlike when the April 16-22 issue of the Gazette went to print, where the wet, wild fun of Songkran was ahead of us, the April 15, 2006 issue saw editors and reporters already in the thick of it.

So, in full Sonkgran spirit, the Gazette closed for the holidays – editors either ready for a well-deserved break or simply not willing to leave home for fear of being inundated with water. With the island’s premier English-language media company’s doors closed, there was no April 22 issue of the Gazette.

However, worry not. As internet and social media have stoked the flames for media consumption throughout the world, the Gazette editors won’t abandon you for the holidays – they will ensure you can get the island’s top stories on Facebook, in the Gazette Online, and, of course, in print.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Opinion

PM takes over Thailand’s vaccine roll out. Public Health Minister found under bus – OPINION

Tim Newton

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OPINION

I went to register my name at a local private hospital in Phuket last Saturday for a place in the Covid vaccine queue. It was at the Bangkok Hospital Phuket. The first response from the reception area after the customary welcoming wai was “do you have insurance?”

I said yes, but that was not relevant to why I was here. I explained that I wanted to put my name on their Covid vaccine register as a former patient and enquire as to when they might expect to get deliveries of a vaccine.

The answer was clear. “I don’t know, nobody knows”. And, as far as we currently understand, that answer was correct.

For foreigners in Thailand, unless they happen to work for companies with “connections” or perhaps a public service that was earmarked in the first roll out of vaccines, the vast majority are doing more damage from scratching their heads at the moment.

We’ve contacted the Provincial Phuket Office in Phuket, and been told the same thing. Or “register at your hospital”.

The Thaiger has published numerous articles about the apparent vacillation of the government in regards to allowing private companies and hospitals to acquire their own stash of vaccines. First they could, then they couldn’t, then it was a “misunderstanding”, and then they could again, about 2 weeks ago.

But not ONE private hospital in Thailand currently has access to its own stocks of an approved Covid 19 vaccine. Not even unapproved vaccines, as far as we can tell. The Thai government are still putting up paperwork and red tape barriers preventing any private solutions to the country’s vaccine roll out.

Now I use the term “roll out” carefully. Because there hasn’t been a lot of rolling. There’s no doubt once the vaccines arrive on site there are plenty of front line doctors and nurses, and local organisers, who can efficiently and diligently administer the doses. That’s happened twice in Phuket and has now resulted in some 70,000 local people vaccinated. It’s happened in other places as well. But there’s certainly been no “military” precision (which you’d think these guys would be good at).

Somewhere between a current shortage of available vaccines, generally, and the Thai government being forced to sign off on any private orders, there has been no movement on the “private vaccine” front.

Dr Suwadee Puntpanich, a director at the Thonburi Hospital Group, told the Thai Enquirer that it’s currently “impossible for the private sector to bring in vaccines due to the government’s inaction”.

“We have sent numerous applications for vaccines to the Ministry of Public Health, to the minister, to the permanent secretary and have received no response”.

Given that the private medical sector would have contacts to negotiate and import drugs from international pharmaceutical companies, you’d think they’d be the government’s first phone call. But no. The government have established their own supply chains, dragging out the process until now we this third wave in Thailand and a vaccine roll out way behind peer nations and most of the rest of the world.

Last night the Thai PM decided to take control of the Kingdom’s vaccine roll out.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed to designate PM Prayut as the chief authority with responsibility for all decisions related to the pandemic. He will have sole responsibility for the country’s Communicable Disease Act, the Immigration Act, National Health Security Act, and the Medical Equipment Act, as well as several others. Critically, he will now be responsible for the procurement and distribution of vaccines, essential to combatting the outbreak in Thailand.

There has been some quite public friction between the PM and his outspoken Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in recent weeks. This decision to take over the decision making in Thailand’s public health sphere is the equivalent to throwing his Bumjaithai party political partner under the bus.

Last week there was loud calls from opposition parties and social media for the resignation of the public health minister. Everything, from the shortage of hospital beds, the lack of vaccines, the decision to let Songkran go ahead, largely unfettered, and a slow reaction to the current outbreak have all fallen on the desk of Anutin.

The PM’s taking over of decision-making for Thailand’s public health at the moment may be an indication of strong, determined leadership. It’s also risky with Anutin pulling the strings on a rump of MPs that secured the PM his majority in the lower house following the 2019 general election.

A petition hosted on Change.org, demanding the resignation of Public Health Minister Anutin, has surpassed an initial target of 200,000 signatures. The target has now been increased to 300,000. 211,600 signatures have already been collected.

Also, as of this morning, the requests for signed paperwork from Thailand’s private hospital sector have remained unsigned.

 

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Tourism

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

Thaiger

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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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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

A Thailand Covid update that you won’t read in the news

Tim Newton

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Tim Newton goes through some of the moving goal posts regarding Thailand’s Covid situation RIGHT NOW. Vaccines for expats, what will happen after Songkran, provincial restrictions, new quarantine requirements. Reading the tea leaves and reading between the lines, Tim provides his personal opinions on many issues expats and foreigners in Thailand are worried about at this time.

 

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