Phuket will remain open to tourists despite a sharp rise in new Covid-19 infections, its governor said on Wednesday, allaying fears over a possible lockdown among business operators who have only begun regaining income from tourism.
The province will keep receiving tourists under its Phuket Sandbox tourism promotion programme, for the sake of maintaining a balance between Covid-19 controls and boosting the economy, said Narong Wunsiew, the provincial governor.
"As we aim to contain Covid-19 while boosting the economy, we have received pleas for us not to shut down the island as to do so would inevitably affect the province's economy again," he said.
From Saturday to Monday, a total of 10,132 foreign visitors arrived in Phuket, a jump from about 500 per day in the early stage of the sandbox programme, he said, adding this has delivered a big lift to the local economy.
As Phuket is testing between 3,000 and 5,000 foreign tourists a day for Covid-19 infections, the number of cases has gone up substantially, he said.
On average between 30 and 50 tourists test positive for Covid-19 each day, said Phichet Panaphong, deputy provincial governor.
The province had found about 66 hotels which are willing to serve either as so-called hospital-cum-hotels (hospitels) or hotel isolation facilities for infected persons with mild and moderate symptoms, he said.
The Covid-19 infection rate is rising among both Thais and foreigners in Phuket when compared with that observed a couple of weeks ago, said Dr Koosak Kookiatkul, the provincial chief health officer. The overall number of new Covid-19 infections has been escalating from between 30 and 40 cases a day previously to more than 120 a day, he said.
On Tuesday, Phuket recorded 215 new Covid-19 infections, the highest daily number in a month, Mr Narong said.
Most of these infections were visitors who arrived under the Phuket Sandbox programme, he said. However, the majority exhibited mild symptoms of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The infection rate among Phuket Sandbox tourists was initially about 0.3% and later rose to 0.5% as overseas arrivals leapt from about 500 to 4,000 a day, Mr Narong said.
Phuket now needs to prepare 1,000 hospitel rooms and hotel isolation services to take in more cases, he said.