Pundits say reopening 'premature'

Pundits say reopening 'premature'

PM's 'sandbox' plan to boost economy possibly dangerous

Officials conduct an exercise at Phuket airport on Thursday to prepare for the Phuket Sandbox project that was set to start on July 1. (Photo: Achadtaya Chuenniran)
Officials conduct an exercise at Phuket airport on Thursday to prepare for the Phuket Sandbox project that was set to start on July 1. (Photo: Achadtaya Chuenniran)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced on Wednesday he would reopen Thailand's borders to boost its economy after its "long sleep".

Furthermore, Phuket was chosen to be the "sandbox" for this scheme on July 1.

After his proclamation, responses were mixed but all suggested the PM prioritise his jab management scheme before opening the gates.

Piyabut Sriphet, 30, a field researcher assistant, said the 120-day plan would be hard to achieve because many Thais had yet to receive their first dose.

He works as a frontline health worker, in close contact with drug users in their communities as he helps them to rehabilitate. This puts him at risk of contracting coronavirus. He said he was HIV-positive which meant his health was much more vulnerable.

The PM's 120-day reopening goal was a great opportunity for Gen Prayut to regain the trust lost from citizens since the coup seven years ago.

"However, what we have witnessed is vaccine mismanagement, which excluded us as frontline workers, as well as others who live with an underlying disease," he said.

He said that as Thailand is fast becoming an ageing society, there are many people, especially the elderly and sick, who found their jabs appointment were postponed. Opening borders, he said, would put their lives at risk.

"It is better for the PM to put aside this plan and focus on vaccine management," he said. "As we can see, the spread is unstoppable and we currently have not achieved 50% immunity of the total population.

"Opening the gates may cause the disease to spread even more."

A Thai Herb startup company owner, who asked not to be named, said he felt a sense of hopelessness about the PM's plan to reopen borders.

"The PM offered hope, but I fear what might happen next," he said.

He also said the PM should focus more on vaccine management than reopening the country.

"All of my family members are medical staff. My brother, who is doctor, has not been vaccinated yet.

"My elder sister, who is a nurse, was quarantined for 14 days once after being in contact with a Covid patient and she received her second dose last week.

"The government said they aim to prioritise medical staff as the first group but how come they were jabbed so late?" he said.

Meanwhile, a flight attendant with an international airline, who also asked not to be named, said she was happy with the plan, as it could rescue tourism businesses after the "long sleep".

"It is better for us to open borders because closing them does not help anyone. It only worsens the situation," she said.

"However, the PM needs to ensure that he has an effective mechanism to prevent further virus transmission."

As a Phuket resident, she said she was happy her hometown was chosen as a "sandbox" as it could revive the island.

"I have never witnessed Patong Beach this quiet since the tsunami many years ago and this crisis is more harmful to the tourism industry than that deadly wave," she said. Nevertheless, she expressed concern over the monitoring process once travellers arrive.

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