With Thailand’s tourism industry counting on the success of the Phuket Sandbox, an international tourist scheme that has limped along for the last few weeks due to rising Covid-19 cases, the Thai island has begun to implement a mass Covid testing scheme in an attempt to save it.
When the Phuket Sandbox kicked off on July 1st, Thai officials said, if Covid-19 cases on Phuket rose to more than 90 a week, the program would be shut down.
Fast forward two and a half months, and Covid-19 cases on Phuket are now more than 200 per day.
Yet, as could have been predicted by anyone who knows anything about Thai governmental officials and their constant flip flops during the entire 19 months of the Covid mess, the Phuket Sandbox is still going on.
Instead, of closing the Phuket Sandbox and damaging the already decimated Thai tourism industry even further, this week authorities have begun mass Covid testing on Phuket in certain communities.
Communities that are thought to be the source of the highest number of new cases.
The new mass Covid testing on Phuket will target nine specific communities, and will be ongoing for a three-day period.
Health officials say they will use rapid antigen test kits (ATKs) in an effort to search out new infections and then contain them.
As testing continues, however, they also warn they expect the number of new cases of Covid-19 on Phuket will surge.
At least for the next two weeks when, at that point, it is hoped cases on Phuket will be in decline.
Why mass Covid testing on Phuket now?
As Covid-19 cases continue to rise on the Thai island, with between 200 and 250 a day on an average day, Phuket authorities are worrying about both the number of new cases and the island’s reputation with international tourists.
As Phuket chief health officer Kusak Kukiattikun commented, “Since July, the number of new infections has continued to rise due to the delta variant. Phuket is a tourist destination. We can’t simply stop people from visiting…a mass screening test program is needed before more patients fill up hospital beds and seriously affect the Phuket Sandbox.”
Yes, this mass Covid testing on Phuket is all about the Phuket Sandbox, restoring confidence in the Thai tourism industry, and the government attempting to reopen the country to international tourists in the next few weeks.
If they can ever get Covid-19 cases under control.
Whether this mass Covid testing on Phuket will be successful, however, or just another failure in Thailand’s Covid-19 strategy is yet to be determined.
Whether international tourists will visit Phuket and the rest of Thailand, if cases fall and when the country does eventually reopen, is also up in the air.
After all, few tourists wish to visit a country mandating masks be worn both indoors and outdoors including on the beach, where expensive Covid-19 insurance is mandatory, where numerous expensive Covid tests must be carried out during just a two-week vacation, and where the government monitors their every move.
Not when so many other places around the globe offer international tourists minimal restrictions or none at all.