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Phuket on high alert, but no tsunami

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket on high alert, but no tsunami | Thaiger

PHUKET: Seaside towns and villages around Phuket were evacuated last night after warnings from the Meteorological Department that there was a high possibility of another tsunami hitting the island.

The warnings came after a massive earthquake jolted Sumatra, just 200 kilometers from the site of the temblor that caused the tsunami on December 26 last year. That wave killed an estimated quarter-million people around the rim of the Indian Ocean, including 5,395 in Thailand.

In the event, last night’s quake, reported as registering 8.7 on the Richter scale by the US Geological Survey (USGS), caused no tsunami, though it did take some 300 lives on Nias, the Indonesian island closest to the epicenter of the jolt. (For more details of the quake, see here.)

The USGS, contacted by the Gazette immediately after the quake, described it as a “great” quake, and advised that it was strong enough to cause “wave motion”.

The earthquake, to the southwest of Sumatra at about 11:15 pm, rocked Malaysia and southern Thailand, and was felt as far away as Bangkok, where tall buildings swayed.

Within minutes, Thai TV channels were receiving SMS messages from viewers. The warning from the Meteorological Department followed soon afterward, advising that there was a growing likelihood of a tsunami, and urging anyone near the sea to head for higher ground immediately.

The message was relayed by people with mobile phones to the point that within half an hour or so the network was jammed. Government officials went around banging on doors, as did ordinary people.

In Phuket City, some 300 people from Saphan Hin, Koh Sireh and other low-lying parts gathered at Phuket Provincial Hall. Others climbed Toh Sae Hill and Rang Hill. In Patong, most people moved to the mountains that surround the town on three sides.

Pol Col Teeraphol Thipjaroen, Superintendent of Kathu Police Station, which is in Patong, told the Gazette that as soon as he learned about the warning, his officers and officials from the Patong Municipality went about telling people to move to higher ground immediately.

“The warning system that was just installed was also working well last night,” he added, saying that he believed that almost everyone in Patong had been evacuated.

A Gazette reader who was in Kalim around the time of the quake heard the alerts being issued in Patong about an hour after the event.

She said, “They were loud enough to be heard in Kalim, so they must have been very loud in Patong.

“I was indoors, so I don’t know whether people were panicking, but there seemed to be a lot of cars driving away from Patong towards the higher ground in Kalim.”

In Phuket City, Provincial Governor Udomsak Usawarangkura convened an emergency meeting at 1 am at the Provincial Hall.

After the meeting he said, “We recommend that people who do not live next to the water stay at home and listen for news from the government. If people go out, it will only add to traffic congestion.

“There has been a problem with telephone connections, especially by mobile phone. We will need some swift solutions from TOT.”

“Announcements have gone out by TV and radio. I have asked the police to watch people’s homes until everyone is evacuated.”

At 2:30 this morning, three hours after the quake, the Meteorological Department announced that there would be no tsunami after all, and Phuket went back to bed.

Asked this morning how he thought last night’s drama would affect tourism, the Governor said, “There will certainly be an effect on tourism, so we have to make sure that tourists know we have a good warning system. Japan often has earthquakes, yet it is still a major tourism destination.

“I believe we will see some cancelations of bookings, but I also think that the next high season, starting in November, will be good,” he added.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Hotel blog suggests Phuket should push ahead with July reopening despite Covid surge

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Hotel blog suggests Phuket should push ahead with July reopening despite Covid surge | Thaiger
PHOTO: Hotels and other tourism business are hoping the July 1st reopening goal can still be achieved.

A hotel information blog is claiming that, despite growing Covid-19 numbers, Phuket should stick to its schedule in reopening to travellers without quarantine in July. That’s only 2 and a half months away.

In an interview with the Director of Travel and Tourism Consulting at GlobalData, they stressed that while it is crucial to reign in the spread of Covid-19 and the B117 strain now manacing Thailand, the risk must not overshadow the need teo push forward with vaccinations and the march towards eliminating the quarantine by July in order to save the tourism industry and all those dependent on it.

“The Phuket pilot program is essential in creating a path towards economic recovery for Thailand, a country heavily dependent on tourism. More than 17% of Thailand’s gross domestic product is attributed to tourism and the Covid-19 pandemic has lead to the worst economic free-fall in over 20 years”

The blog acknowledges the inherent risk and possible appearance of foolishness to prioritise the plans to reopen and carry on with the same rollout schedule. But they urge Thai authorities to consider that July 1 is still 2 and a half months away, leaving ample time to recover and make progress towards the approaching Phuket reopening. A vital aspect of the reopening plan lies in vaccinating over 70% of Phuket’s provincial residents, a sizable task, but one that brings great benefit with or without the scheduled reopening.

“Pushing ahead to achieve this goal puts Phuket on track to welcome back tourists, perhaps in a “bio-bubble”, and restart the economy. The economy is desperate with household debt growing, pushing the government to enact emergency decrees to provide relief. These households need the return of tourism and the influx of cash international tourists will bring.”

The blog hopes that Thai authorities can balance the necessary Covid-19 safety measures in Phuket to protect the Thai population with the economic need to bring back tourism. They believe that with sufficient measures in place, vaccinated locals could welcome vaccinated international tourists back to Phuket reopening safely in July.

SOURCE: Hotel News Resource

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

UPDATE: Field hospitals being established in Covid hot zones around Thailand

Tim Newton

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UPDATE: Field hospitals being established in Covid hot zones around Thailand | Thaiger

UPDATE: The field hospital in Bangkok’s Bang Bon district, west of the Chao Phraya river, had its first 10 Covid patients today. The director of the medical services office of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration says that the 10 patients into the makeshift hospital, located at the Chalerm Phra Kiat Stadium, will enable assessment of the performance by the medical team, before more patients arrive – Thai PBS World

ORIGINAL STORY: Despite the confident posture and Songkran going ahead, amid restrictions, there is a lot of background activity which suggest the authorities are getting ready for a surge of new infections at the end of the Songkran break, officially this Thursday (but in reality, next Sunday at the end of the weekend when most people who travelled home will return for a resumption of work).

The Thai lunar new year celebrations – Songkran – are the largest mass movement of Thais each year, a source for a huge leap in road deaths and accidents. And, this year, a potential super-spreader event.

Quietly, at least 3,000 extra beds have been prepared in 10 field hospitals around Bangkok. The government has also confirmed that additional field hospitals are being set up in other potential ‘hot zones’, including Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chonburi and Hua Hin. Some of them were set up last year, and since closed, and now being prepared for new positive infections.

One Thai person who had been in one of the field hospitals put together a check-list of things to take IF you end up as an invited ‘guest’ HERE.

The CCSA say they are looking for additional beds in hotels and previous state quarantine facilities (where repatriating Thais were housed for their free quarantine) to be used if needed.

This year’s Songkran had bad timing, coming just a week after a number of major clusters were identified around some of Bangkok’s popular nightlife areas in 3 key inner city districts. Even before Songkran these isolated clusters had already spread into the provinces. In the weekend before Songkran the government had already listed 37 provinces which had instigated some form of paperwork or restrictions for people who had been in any of the 3 Bangkok districts.

The government also leapt on the source of the new outbreaks – bars, clubs and entertainment venues – and promptly shut them down for at least 2 weeks. At this stage it looks likely that that ban will be extended beyond the 2 weeks and, depending on the extent of new infections following the Songkran holiday, additional restrictions will also be added.

Even today the Civil Aviation Authority published a number of new in-flight restrictions for passengers – another blow to the hard-hit domestic aviation sector.

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Chiang Mai

Tourism officials slash Songkran travel expectations by half

Tim Newton

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Tourism officials slash Songkran travel expectations by half | Thaiger

The TAT, ever the optimists regarding anything tourism related, even domestic tourism, predict that the Bangkok clusters that have emerged in the week before the Songkran break could reduce traffic and spending by up to half.

Today the CCSA is reporting 789 new infections and one additional death. 522 were local infections, mostly walk-ins to Bangkok hospitals, 259 were discovered through track and tracing. The remaining 8 were found in quarantine from overseas arrivals. In Phuket, another 17 cases have been reported today, taking the island’s week total to 43.

Tourism officials slash Songkran travel expectations by half | News by ThaigerGRAPH: Worldometer figures for Thailand, up to April 9

A 68 year old man from Nakhon Pathom province died on April 4 but wasn’t reported until today. The CCSA report that he died from Covid and “complications”. 33 other former patients have recovered and been discharged.

Last week the TAT estimated 3.2 million domestic trips would circulate 12 billion baht for the Thai economy. But the Tourism Authority has now slashed their estimates by half after hotels, airlines and bus companies reported mass cancellations in the last few days. Other provinces are reporting less than 20% cancellations. Although this weekend will see a lot of travel, Songkran doesn’t formally start until next Tuesday and the TAT expect there could be additional fallout as travellers decide to have a staycation for Songkran instead heading home.

Bangkok Post reports that 70% of travellers to Prachuap Khiri Khan and Hua Hin have already cancelled hotel bookings. Similar cancellations have been reported in Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Many other provinces, particularly in the north east and north, are also enforcing quarantine on arrivals or additional paperwork to try and protect their provinces from any of the Bangkok clusters.

8 north eastern provinces rare now requiring 10 or 14 day quarantine periods for anyone arriving from areas where new clusters have been reported. Chiang Mai provincial officials say that tourists from Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Bangkok, Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi – basically Bangkok and surrounding provinces – must complete a 14 day mandatory quarantine or conduct a test for Covid when they arrive.

The reality is that the travel and quarantine changes are outstripping the ability to communicate them all. Anyone crossing into other provinces in the next few day, especially if you’re travelling from Bangkok and surrounding provincial ‘red zones’ can expect some additional paperwork or a Covid test. Or even quarantine.

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