Worries remain over government’s “Phuket Model”


As the government has gradually eased Covid-19 restrictions, the tourism sector has high hopes for a good recovery. The resort island province of Phuket is eager to reopen to foreign tourists to help stimulate the local economy, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. The “Phuket Model” has been proposed to reopen the province in October in a “new normal” manner. But the government’s efforts are creating doubt about the health system’s readiness to curb a potential second wave of the virus.

It’s expected that foreign tourists will be allowed to visit Thailand from October 1 onward, and about 100,000 of them will likely come. If given the green light by the government, the Phuket Model will be trialled in 6 regions across the country.

Tourism and Transport Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says Phuket will be a pilot area where foreign tourists are allowed to travel. Under the plan, foreign tourists will be allowed to stay in a designated area of a 1 kilometre radius on the island for 14 days before they can travel to other areas in the province, provided they test negative for the virus. If they want to visit other provinces, they’ll have to stay in quarantine there for another week.

The president of the Phuket Tourist Association says the province’s private sector has proposed its own “4Ts”, instead of the Phuket Model, to welcome back foreign tourists, but that reopening Phuket doesn’t mean allowing general foreign tourists in.

The “4Ts” are Target (setting clear targets for tourist numbers), Testing (screening and testing for the virus at the airport), Tracing (using an application to keep track of every tourist in real time) and Treatment (sufficient health workers and medicine to treat Covid-19 patients).

“We will allow only foreigners who used to stay in Phuket and now want to come back and those keen on staying for a long time. We intend to accept only a small group, not everyone.”

He voiced disagreement with the government’s model, saying Phuket must protect and serve local people first. At the peak of the outbreak, Phuket had the highest rate of infection of all of Thailand’s 76 provinces.

“The private sector wants to accept only a small number of foreign tourists who must be screened and tested until it is certain that they are completely free from the virus.”

The mayor of Phuket’s Patong municipality, the red light district and the island’s hardest hit area, said:

“We must admit that we need to allow foreign tourists in but most of the people here are not very confident in the government’s measures. We are not sure if they will be strictly implemented but we must be open. People are having a tough time. Businesses have shut doors. We do not want a lot of money, we just want to get by and be healthy.”

The president of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce agreed, saying Phuket is ready to welcome back tourists but its idea of reopening is different to that of the tourism and sports minister.

“We want foreigners to travel to Thailand to help generate income, but we disagree with the idea of allowing them to travel in Phuket or Thailand for just 5-7 days.”

He suggested the first group of foreigners allowed in during October should be those who plan to stay on the island for a long time, including foreign students, medical tourists and those with families or businesses in the country.

Phiphat revealed more information about the planned reopening of foreign tourism yesterday. The cabinet on Tuesday approved a new tourism agency, “Thailand Longstay”, which will market and organise all trips for tourists entering Thailand from approved countries which will be subject to demanding criteria. The new entity is to be 30% owned by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. He said the first group of approximately 200 tourists from Australia and New Zealand will arrive in mid-September. Visitors will be required to have a Covid 19 test, a medical certificate and US$100,000 in health insurance, specifically covering Covid-19 treatment.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | Thai Enquirer

Phuket News

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