Officials say Phuket ready to deal with Songkran influx

PHUKET: The island’s officials are preparing to manage the influx of visitors, both local and foreign, who swarm into Phuket during Songkran, which is being celebrated nationwide this week.

Phuket International Airport Director Monrudee Gettuphan has confirmed that an in-line screening system was recently added to the airport, which will help ease passenger congestion, make processing times faster and highlighting and alleviating any ‘suspicious circumstances’ that might affect the island.

Newly appointed Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong emphasized Songkran safety as his top priority on his first day in office today. Phuket Vice Governor Sanit Sriwihok has similarly revealed the safety measures that will be implemented during Songkran.

“Every year, the (central) government provides us with additional support to prepare for Songkran. Safety measures include stricter police patrols at checkpoints to force people to drive safely, as well as strict measures to prevent drunk driving. Most importantly, I ask people to be patient, have discipline and cooperate with officials,” Vice Gov Sanit told the Phuket Gazette.

He also spoke about the island’s semi-annual ‘Seven Days of Danger’ campaign, to be held from tomorrow until midnight next Monday.

“Our aim is always to meet the ‘zero deaths’ target during Songkran, but sometimes, even despite our best efforts, we cannot change people’s reckless behavior. If everyone follows the rules of the road, it will certainly help reduce the number of accidents and deaths,” added V/Gov Sanit.

Police and military agencies, as well as public and private sector groups have also joined forces to campaign for safer roads, including setting up more traffic checkpoints and tighter law enforcement, especially against drunk and speeding drivers.

After a deadly New Year festival, which saw a national death toll of 478 and some 3,919 accidents, the government aims to slash the number of deaths and accidents for the upcoming holiday.

Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department Deputy Director-General Kobchai Boonyaorana said the reason for ramping up traffic law enforcement was that statistics showed that the main cause of road accidents in Thailand was lack of traffic discipline.

“We have learned from previous traffic accident monitoring periods that we have a problem in our traffic law and law enforcement. So, this Songkran we had to come up with many tighter measures, such as requiring all passengers in the car to wear their seatbelts all the time and forbidding passengers to sit in the back of [pickup] trucks,” Gen Kobchai said.

Tourism Authority of Thailand Phuket Director Anoma Wongyai said that at least 5 billion baht will be added to Phuket’s economy during the Songkran festivities.

“About 76 per cent of the hotel bookings are from Chinese and other Asian visitors, as well as European tourists, as Songkran also coincides with the Easter holidays,” said Ms Anoma.

She added that several cultural shows will also be held throughout Phuket for visitors to enjoy, including food and art festivals, games and parades.

“Visitor numbers are expected to be up this year, especially at the beach areas,” Wal Brown, founder and coordinator of the Region 8 Police Volunteers, told the Gazette.

“Subsequently, there will be more officers on duty than in previous years and they will be focused on the safety of everyone – both locals and foreigners. Every year, we see far too many accidents, especially on the roads.”

Mr Brown also requested party goers not to throw water at law enforcement officers and volunteers in uniform.

“From previous years, we know that it’s really problematic to patrol when drenched,” he said.
Mr Brown also said that police would be focusing on dangerous actions with the use of water as well as unsafe driving and alcohol abuse.

“Everyone over the blood alcohol limit will be arrested, charged and put through the courts – no exceptions. This can lead to deportation and a ban on re-entering Thailand,” Mr Brown said.

When asked about a potential shortage of water during Songkran, Sayan Wareearoonroj, manager of Phuket Provincial Water Supply, said that he was not expecting water shortage to pose a serious problem in Phuket.

“The only problem area is Patong, but there is sufficient water in the Bang Wad Dam and we are also receiving support from private entities such as the Loch Palm Golf Club and Manik Mining,” he said.

Despite precautions and reinforcements, officials and volunteers are urging people to celebrate responsibly.

“For anyone planning to enjoy the event, celebrate on your feet. Don’t play on bikes, as it’s very easy to get into serious problems and accidents,” said Vincent Modell, a volunteer rescue worker at the Kusoldharm Foundation.

“Don’t drink and drive, be sensible about what you are doing and play safe. In case of accidents or emergencies, however, we are always there to help.”

Additional reporting by The Nation.

— Sukawin Tanthavanich

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