The Phuket Sandbox scheme aimed at revitalising the economy and tourism and is going well, with tourists continuing to arrive, but its success has been marred by "fake news" on social media of its imminent collapse, a government spokesman said.
Thanakorn Wangboonkongchan, secretary to the Prime Minister's Office minister and spokesman for the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), said false reports were being disseminated on social media that Phuket had been ordered closed because Covid-19 had spread beyond control.
Mr Thanakorn said this was not true. The Phuket Sandbox programme was still being implemented, with tourists continuing to arrive.
He asked people not to share such misinformation as it could cause panic.
Health measures were being strictly implemented to prevent Covid-19 spreading on the island province, he said.
Mr Thanakorn said tourism was a major source of income for Phuket, normally about 450 billion baht per year. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic revenue had dropped to only 108.4 billlion baht in 2020 and 5.2 billion baht in 2021. Businesses had been shuttered and people were unemployed.
The Phuket Sanbox was the government's pivot programme to revitalise the battered economy.
Since its launch on July 1, at least 4,778 tourists had arrived from overseas. Hotels with the Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus sign had been booked for 176,993 room nights throughout the third quarter (July-September).
The Tourism Authority of Thailand had set a target of up to 100,000 tourists to arrive during the three months and generate 8.9 billion baht in revenue, he said.
Phuket deputy governor Piyapong Chuwong and provincial health office chief Kusak Kukiatikoon also came out to slam fake reports of the programme's demise.
Mr Piyapong called a press conference on Monday evening and said 4,568 tourists had arrived from July 1-11. On July 11 alone, there were 651 arrivals. There were an average six flights per day bringing touirsts into Phuket, he said.
"The Phuket Sanbox is still going strong, judging from the number of flights per day, daily arrivals of about 600, and booked room nights at more than 100,000.
"Although some tourists were found to have Covid-19, this was not unexpected. We have prepared measures to prevent new clusters occurring," the deputy governor said.
Dr Kusak said that as of July 12 the accumulated number of Covid-19 cases in Phuket was 788, of whom 720 had recovered and 72 were still under treatment. Daily infections had been below 10 since May 15.
The number of Covid infections was 403 in April, 259 in May, 73 in June and 58 in July. Of the 58 found from July 1-11, 52 were Thais and only six were tourists under the Phuket Sanbox scheme.
The six foreign arrivals were a man from the United Arab Emirates, three female tourists from Myanmar, a man from South Africa and a man from Switzerland, he said.
"The infections found among Phuket Sandbox arrivals will not cause the programme to collapse. In this situation, the chance of seeing zero infections is very slim," Dr Kusak said.
"We have 23 medical teams to investigate once there is an infection. Those considered high-risk are quickly quarantined.
"Our vaccination programme has covered over 70% of the Phuket population. All disease control measures are being fully enforced," he said.