Extensive testing for virus in Phuket

Extensive testing for virus in Phuket

Dr Pitakpol Boonyamalik, left, an inspector-general at the Public Health Ministry, announces anti-Covid-19 measures in Phuket province on Tuesday. (Photo: Achadtaya Chuenniran)
Dr Pitakpol Boonyamalik, left, an inspector-general at the Public Health Ministry, announces anti-Covid-19 measures in Phuket province on Tuesday. (Photo: Achadtaya Chuenniran)

PHUKET: Health officials are extending testing for coronavirus infections in the province, with a target to examine up to 3,000 people in high risk groups, Dr Pitakpol Boonyamalik, an inspector-general at the Public Health Ministry, said on Tuesday.

Dr Pitakpol, whose area of responsibility covers seven Upper South provinces including Phuket, said the task was challenging since Phuket hosts a large number of foreign tourists, with different behaviour and activities.

Disease Control Department officials were actively scanning for people infected with the virus, particularly tourists who frequent entertainment venues in Soi Bangla in Patong area of Kathu district, and people who work there.

A team had been brought from Bangkok to do laboratory tests. The Thai Health Promotion Foundation was funding the campaign.

The campaign started on April 2. During the initial stage, the focus was on Soi Bangla in Patong area. This was being expanded to surrounding areas in Kathu and Thalang districts. The target was to bring about 3,000 people in for testing.

"So far, about 2,000 have been tested," Dr Pitakpol said, adding that it took about 24 hours for a laboratory test result.

The number of infections would keep going up for a certain period and then gradually decline after that.

The effectiveness of the campaign depended on the lockdown imposed on several parts of the city, and the aggressive scanning of people in at-risk groups. The final result was expected to be known in one to two weeks, he said.

Pakkapong Tawipat, the Phuket governor, said health officials had pooled their efforts to scan for the infected. A main problem found was that most people did not tell the truth. Therefore, the focus had been placed on high risk groups.

He said the province had prepared two field hospitals to take care of infected people. The first one had 110 beds and was in the auditorium of the new city hall, where about 20 patients are currently being treated. The second was at Prince of Songkla University, Phuket campus, which would soon be ready for patients.

All ways into Phuket by water had been closed, the governor said. As for land access, stringent measures were in place at Tha Chat Chai checkpoint to screen people wanting to enter or leave the province.

The Civil Aviation Department would close Phuket international airport from April 10, starting at 12.01am, to all flights except official aircraft transporting samples taken from patients to be tested in Bangkok, and donated blood.

He said about 3,000 tourists were stranded in Phuket. The province was coordinating with their consulates to arrange flights to take them home. On Tuesday night, a chartered plane would arrive to take stranded French tourists back to France, Mr Pakkapong said.

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