Phuket begins plan for tourists to return

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Business operators in Phuket are pressing ahead with a proposal to turn around the tourism industry by allowing long-stay tourists to resume their visits to the resort island as early as November.

Under the “4T” model put forward at a meeting of the provincial disease control committee, long-stay visitors have been identified as having the most potential to be welcomed.

The 4T model, which stands for Target, Testing, Tracing and Treatment, is designed to balance public health issues with economic recovery, according to the province’s business community.

“We should start with a small group of long-stay tourists. Chartered flights will be the answer and we can begin on Nov 1,” said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association.

Under the model, target groups need to take a Covid-19 test to ensure they are virus-free before departure.

Once they arrive in Phuket, they will be tracked to mitigate risks of transmission while authorities work to ensure public health preparedness and response.

Sombat Atireth, president of the Kata Thani Hotel, said hotel operators are ready for the proposal in which visitors will be required to stay at their accommodation for five to 14 days before they can go out and explore.

He said community health volunteers should be brought in to observe the quarantine process and boost local people’s confidence in disease control measures.

“We shouldn’t let the opportunity go to waste,” he said.

Phuket, whose local economy almost entirely depends on the service sector and tourism has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Phuket received 14 million tourists last year and income from tourism was 400 billion baht.

However, Covid-19 killed the boom. In the first two months of the pandemic, the local economy suffered a 20-billion-baht loss.

Thanusak Phuengdej, president of the Phuket chamber of commerce, said the majority of local people agree with the proposal to open the province to foreign visitors, but they are concerned about a fresh wave of infections.

He noted that some 500 foreign students are waiting to return.

“We can take it step by step and make Phuket the model,” he said.

Anchalee Wanich Thepabut, a former senator, voiced support for the 4T model and called on the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to consider the proposal which is designed to balance public health issues with economic recovery.

According to deputy army chief Natthapon Nakpanich, arrivals of foreign visitors will have to be screened by the CCSA first while Phuket may have to set up an operations centre to implement the 4T model and draw up a contingency plan.