Authorities counter dengue, haze stories

PHUKET: Tourism and health officials in Phuket today moved to counter press reports that Phuket is beset by dengue fever and by smoke from forest fires in Sumatra. The Director of the Phuket office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Anuphap Theerarath, told the Gazette that a report in a newspaper in Singapore about dengue fever had caused a number of tourists to cancel bookings for holidays in Phuket. “It is not true. Dengue fever in Phuket is under control, thanks to the actions of the Phuket Provincial Health Office.” He added that there are always cases of dengue fever around the region at this time of the year, but that this was not something that tourists need worry about. The Provincial Health Office (PHO) reported on Thursday that there had been 75 cases of dengue fever in the province this year. However, it noted, there had been no deaths, unlike in other parts of the region. Phuket has an estimated population of 450,000, so the dengue cases so far represent 1.7 cases per 10,000 population. The Gazette understands that Dr Boonrieng Chuchaisaengrat, Chief of the PHO, will be writing a letter, to be sent to hundreds of travel agencies around Asia, clarifying the situation and offering reassurance to nervous tourists. K. Anuphap also addressed reports that air pollution from out-of-control forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is affecting southern Thailand. “Phuket is a long way from Sumatra,” he said, “so the effect of the fires here is much less noticeable than in the five provinces in the deep south of Thailand. “There is no smoke or smell of burning. At the moment we have just a little bit of haze. This has happened in past years, but we have never had pollution on the same scale as the provinces that are nearer to Sumatra. The air here is still fresh.” Amorn Chantanavivate, director of the Southwestern Regional Meteorological Center, told the Gazette that the current haze in Phuket, which is affecting the air up to an altitude of 5,000 feet, is the result of a temporary southeast wind. The southwest monsoon, which normally prevails at this time of the year, should return shortly, he said, and would blow the smoke away from Phuket. Visibility is not a serious problem, he noted; aircraft are still flying and visibility is six kilometers, twice the minimum safe distance. He added that rain showers, which are normal at this time of year, will help to wash the haze from the air.

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