'Fake news' mars Phuket Sandbox
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'Fake news' mars Phuket Sandbox

Covid reports not true, insists govt

The Phuket Sandbox scheme, which is aimed at revitalising the economy and tourism, has been proceeding well, with tourists continuing to arrive, but its successes have been marred by "fake news" on social media of its imminent collapse, a government spokesman said yesterday.

Thanakorn Wangboonkongchan, secretary to the Prime Minister's Office as well as the 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 out of 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 in the island province, he added.

Mr Thanakorn said tourism was a major source of income for Phuket, normally about 450 billion baht per year.

Due to the pandemic, revenue had dropped to only 108 billion baht in 2020 and 5.2 billion baht so far in 2021.

Businesses had been shuttered and people were unemployed.

The Phuket Sandbox was the government's pivot programme aimed at revitalising 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 have had 176,993 night room bookings throughout the third quarter (July-September), said Mr Thanakorn.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) had set a target of up to 100,000 tourists to arrive during the three months and that would generate 8.9 billion baht in revenue, he said.

Phuket deputy governor Piyapong Chuwong and provincial health office chief Kusak Kukiatikoon also came out yesterday for a press conference to slam reports of the programme's demise.

Mr Piyapong said 4,568 tourists had arrived from July 1-11.

He said on July 11 alone, there were 651 arrivals.

There was an average six flights per day bringing tourists to Phuket from overseas, he said.

"The Phuket Sandbox is still going strong, judging from the number of flights per day, with daily arrivals of about 600, and booked room nights of more than 100,000," the deputy governor said.

"Although some tourists were found to have Covid-19, this was not unexpected," he said.

"We have prepared measures to prevent new clusters occurring."

Dr Kusak said that as of Monday 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 coronavirus infections was 403 in April, 259 in May, 73 in June and 58 in July.

Of the 58 found during July 1-11, 52 were Thais and only six were tourists under the Phuket Sandbox 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 the Phuket Sandbox arrivals will not cause the programme to collapse," Dr Kusak said.

"In this situation, the chance of seeing zero infections is very slim.

"We have 23 medical teams to investigate any infections. 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.

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