The popular resort island of Phuket is preparing to face new restrictions in Thailand’s on-going fight against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). According to a statement by provincial officials, the island will begin a 24-hour lockdown from Monday, during which time people will be confined to their homes. In a ground-breaking escalation of safety measures, Phuket will also become the first province to impose mandatory door-to-door testing for all residents.
The lockdown will begin from 00.01am on Monday, 13th April and will be in place 24 hours-a-day for at least 14 days, until 11:59pm on 26th April. Throughout this period, people will be forbidden to leave their sub-district, and will be required to stay in their homes as much as possible, only leaving the house to buy essentials such as groceries and medicine. Six Phuket sub-districts (or “tambon” in Thai) – Patong, Karon, Chalong, Rawai, Kathu and Srisoonthorn – are already under lockdown, which came into effect over the past week. The remainder will follow join the lockdown from Monday.
During this period, public health workers will visit every house in the province to take the temperature of each and every occupant. Anyone with a fever will be isolated in specially designated hospitals. Phuket has already closed its airports and restricted traffic by land and sea. The latest measures take Thailand’s national state of emergency a step further; an opportunity for greater containment afforded by the island’s geography and infrastructure.
The news was announced by Phuket officials during a ceremony held earlier this week (8/4), when they also confirmed Phuket had received a delivery of 3,000 infrared thermometers for the project; these will be used along with a mobile phone app to collate data from the inspections. Equipped with this technology, Phuket will become the first province in Thailand – and the world – where every household will be checked for possible infection of COVID-19.
“Checking the temperatures of all people is a way to build people’s confidence,” said Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatan during the announcement. “The thermometers that we received will be given to teams comprising health volunteers, civil defence volunteers, members of the public and village headmen who will knock on every household door to check people’s temperatures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he added.
In additional steps aimed at stamping out the virus in Phuket, health officers will clean all the island’s public areas using sterilizing sanitizer. Hotels on the island have already been told to close, and provide detailed information of staff and guests currently on the premises. As reported earlier this week, tourists currently stranded in Thailand will be granted visa amnesty until the end of the month.
The island is already in lockdown, with access denied to all except those in emergency and essential services, such as telecommunications, postal services, drivers delivering consumer goods and government officers performing their duties.
The latest order urges people to cooperate by staying in their homes and instructs residents to prepare for the lockdown, but also discourages hoarding. The order does not specify punishments for hoarding, but suggests that responses to the practice will be at the “officers’ discretion”.
In addition, Governor Phakaphong warned that breaking the lockdown orders was punishable under Section 52 of the Communicable Disease Act 2015, which can incur a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to THB100,000. Breach of the order may also be punishable under Section 18 of the Emergency Decree, which involves a penalty of up to two years in prison or a fine of up to B40,000, or both.
Following the announcement, Phuket Provincial Administrative Chief (Palad) Wikrom Jaktee explained the thinking behind the drastic new measures: “to pass through this crisis quickly, we have to ask for cooperation from people to stay home all the time ‘like a 24-hour curfew,’” said Mr. Wikrom. “Please prepare essential goods for living before Apr 13. Those who cannot prepare by themselves, please inform your local administrative organizations, who will arrange a bag of essential goods for you,” he added.
“If all people in Phuket together follow the suggestion, we will all eventually see the light at the end of tunnel. If it really works, by April 30, we will have found all the infected people in Phuket and have rushed to help them recover in order to bring our lives back to normal,” concluded Phuket’s Provincial Administrative Chief.
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