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Tourism Minister targets Phuket’s stolen passport trade

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Tourism Minister targets Phuket’s stolen passport trade | Thaiger

PHUKET: Recent news of the stolen passports trade in Phuket and the recently found Russian kidnap victim prompted a visit from Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister to the island yesterday to meet with officials and get to the bottom of the issues.

“I came to Phuket to follow up on the cases concerning the stolen passports used to board missing Flight MH370 and the Russians that were reported kidnapped,” said Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Pureesrisak.

Phuket has been put under the international spotlight after the news broke that two men boarded the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 using passports stolen on the island (story here).

Last year, more than 2,500 passports were reported stolen in Thailand, explained Mr Somsak.

“In 2012, 2,000 passports were reported stolen nationwide. That number went up by more than 500 in 2013. Those numbers will have to be officially verified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but after studying news reports, we can see an increase in the trend,” he said.

The lead investigator on the case, Phuket Provincial Police Deputy Commander Col Arun Kaewwatee, told the press, “After discovering that the passports used to board Flight MH370 were stolen in Phuket, we learned that 372 passports have been reported lost in Phuket since January this year, and 274 of those were reported lost in Patong.”

Those most commonly reported lost were Australian passports, followed by French, Chinese, British and Russian; the five biggest tourist groups that come to Phuket, said Col Arun.

Police are now pushing rental shops to collect more information about their customers and are planning to hand down stricter rules to keep foreign passports safe, he said.

“Phuket authorities are not taking this situation lightly, we are all pushing hard for solutions to the problem,” said Vice Governor Sommai Prijasilpa.

“The most important goal is to impress upon rental operators they should not hold passports as collateral on a rented vehicle. Passports belong to the foreigners’ home countries.”

Officials have started initiating changes by encouraging rental operators to verify tourists have a driving license issued in the tourist’s home country before renting out a vehicle, she added.

Mr Somsak was to present the information gleaned from his meeting with Phuket officials to the Cabinet and Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at a meeting in Bangkok today.

“We need to develop a detailed strategy to combat this common agreement made between rental operators and foreigners when they submit their passports as collateral,” said Mr Somsak.

“However, we cannot do this alone. We need to cooperate with the foreigners’ countries, voice our concerns about the agreements made between renters and customers and try to stop it from happening.”

Minister Somsak also called for Phuket Provincial Commander Ong-art Phiwruangnont to swiftly solve the ongoing case of the alleged kidnapping of a Russian couple, of whom the woman was recently found after disappearing for nine days (story here).

“If crimes like this are happening on Phuket, it is a big deal. We do not want kidnappings in Thailand,” he said.

Gen Ong-art confirmed that his officers are searching for two Russian expats suspected of involvement in the alleged kidnapping and that he expects to close the case soon (story here).

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

Tourism

Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp”

Tim Newton

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Phuket’s July Sandbox no-quarantine model “needs a major revamp” | Thaiger
PHOTO: The monsoon waves are starting to hit Phuket's west coast

Thailand’s Sports and Tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn is acknowledging that Phuket’s ‘Sandbox’ model for a no-quarantine re-opening in July will need “a major revamp”. As the Songkran travel bubble bursts and the monsoon season waves start to roll onto the island’s west coast beaches, Phuket’s scheduled July re-boot suddenly seems a long way off.

Minister Phiphat says he plans to meet with “all related agencies” this week. Apart from the latest national re-surge in new infections, Phuket has been unable to get its hands on sufficient vaccines to meed its deadline of 70% of the island vaccinated by July 1. Thailand’s limited supplies of the vaccine – including some 930,000 doses designated for Phuket – are being rerouted to other provinces as the government prioritises the limited supply.

“We are all concerned about the reopening timeline,” he was quoted in Bangkok Post.

But the Minister did acknowledge that, if the 70% vaccination level couldn’t be met, they may consider opening some areas of the island. Exactly how that would work hasn’t been revealed at this stage.

The minister also brought up the ongoing travel bubble negotiations and says he hadn’t heard back from some of the candidates with their reaction to the current outbreak.

Flights in and out of Phuket Airport’s international terminal have been extremely patchy and the flights from feeder tourist markets will need to co-operate with any re-opening plans.

Phuket, whilst suffering a rise in new infections, hasn’t been hit as hard as some of the other popular holiday provinces, like Chiang Mai, Chon Buri (Pattaya) and Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin).

This year’s Songkran was going to be a major stepping stone for the island’s recovery and many hotels, some who had opened especially to cater for Songkran holiday traffic, noted a lot of cancellations just prior to the break.

But some island hotels have still reported high occupancy rates over the past week. One Manager, who did not want his name published, said that their hotel was almost full with Thai patrons, most who had pre-paid for their flights and accommodation and decided to go ahead anyway.

Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, says that they are opposed to any lockdown as it would cripple the island, with its tourist businesses already suffering greatly. He stated that 15% of people cancelled their Songkran bookings, while 30% had postponed their trips.

The Sports and Tourism Ministers is still in quarantine after having close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 2 weeks ago.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing

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Phuket begs Kolour attendees to come for Covid-19 testing | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Kolour in the park was more pleasant in 2018 before Covid-19.

Health officials in Phuket put out a public statement this week compelling all foreigners who attended clubs and Kolour events to report for Covid-19 testing. As many might expect, the response has been lacklustre at best. Spreading the message around the foreigner and expat community in Phuket, the message is aimed at the multitudes of people, mostly foreign who attended Kolour and related events that turned into a Covid-19 superspreader event. Many foreigners have not come forward, much to health officials chagrin.

Online and on social media, foreigners and Thais shed light on why this urgent public health request is going largely unheeded. Foreigners fear the repercussions of coming forward, especially since Thailand is not allowing staying home or elsewhere in isolation if someone tests positive for Covid-19. Quarantine is mandatory, and with infection numbers exploding across the country, many fear the less-than-posh comforts of being quarantined in an emergency field hospital.

Cost is the other factor that likely is preventing foreigners from turning themselves in to be tested for Covid-19. While Phuket health officials may test people for free, anyone found infected with Covid-19 will be financially responsible for all the costs of their treatment and quarantine. Foreigners with limited financial resources, especially after a year of holing up in Thailand to ride out the Coronavirus, may resist reporting to authorities when they cannot afford the mandatory quarantine and medical treatment.

Perhaps recognizing this hesitation, the message includes a plea for all attendees to self-quarantine and self-monitor for any symptoms over the next week, even if they fail to report or test negative. The note also reminds everyone to wear masks in public at all times. The statement to the public also instructed anyone who attended any of the Covid-19 spreading nightlife events to report to the Acute Respiratory Infection Clinic area of Vachira General Hospital to receive a Covid-19 swab test.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions

Tim Newton

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Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | Thaiger

Three of Thailand’s biggest expat areas are seeing sharp rises in new infections, partly from pre-Songkran traffic. The Songkran holidays, now officially over (but will see many people taking today off and making a weekend Songkran extension), and the government says they are expecting to see a rise in the cases numbers reported in the popular holiday locations.

Chon Buri Public Health office says they now have a total of 910 infections since April 1. They have 103 new cases in the past 24 hours. Most new cases are in Bang Lamung district which includes Pattaya City with 47, Siracha with 12) & Chon buri City with 8.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

Meanwhile Phuket has a total of 142 infections recorded on the island with the Governor still insisting there will be no need for a lockdown. Here’s a breakdown of the areas and the numbers of recorded infections so far (below).

Governor Narong announced that the Phuket Infectious Disease Control Committee won’t be implementing an official lockdown, but will “strictly raise the intensity of public health measures to counter the spread of Covid-19″.

“Everyone should wear a face mask, maintain social distancing, wash their hands frequently and install the Mor Chana app (available for free from App Store and Google Play Store).”

A meeting of the CCSA, chaired by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to upgrade restrictions in red zone areas around the country, which includes Phuket and Pattaya. Read more about the latest red and orange zones HERE.

Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin brace for increased restrictions | News by Thaiger

For Hua Hin expats, there’s been 100 new Covid-19 infections announced in Prachuap Khiri Khan in the past 24 hours, 75 cases from Hua Hin. This takes the total in the province since April 1 to 625. Hua Hin accounts for nearly 90% of the district’s total cases.

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