Thailand puts Phuket on lockdown to contain coronavirus

In a photo from March 20, 2020, international tourists, predominantly Russian nationals, enjoy the beach at a resort in Phuket.
In a photo from March 20, 2020, international tourists, predominantly Russian nationals, enjoy the beach at a resort in Phuket.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Phuket in Thailand is on lockdown starting Monday (March 30), with most transportation to the island banned, in the latest effort to contain the spread of novel coronavirus in the popular tourist destination.

The order will last for at least for one month, according to Phuket Governor Pakkapong Taweepat. Boats, cars and trucks providing essential goods and services are exempted.

Restricting access to the island is a toughening of the state-of-emergency rules imposed by the government last week under which non-essential businesses are shut and inter-provincial travel is discouraged.

Phuket’s economy is reeling from the outbreak. About 56 per cent of total employment was in tourism-related industries, the Bank of Thailand said in a note.

Thailand’s foreign tourism receipts plunged in February to the lowest since 2015 and the nation’s economy is on course for its worst contraction this year since the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s.

Local media, citing Phuket authorities, reported that the island’s airspace will close from April 10 onward. But finding flights to Phuket and other destinations is in any case getting more and more difficult as the airline industry shuts down. Phuket International Airport is operated by Airports of Thailand Pcl.

The nation’s largest low-cost carrier, Thai AirAsia, is temporarily suspending all domestic and international flights. Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways are also grounding planes as airlines slash costs to cope with the fallout of the new coronavirus. 

Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok – all popular with tourists before the disease hit – have some of Thailand’s biggest Covid-19 clusters.  According to the Health Ministry, 49 cases have been reported in Phuket, making it the province with the highest number of cases outside of the Bangkok metropolitan area.

Overall confirmed cases rose by 136 on Monday to 1,524, with two additional deaths reported, bringing the count to nine fatalities.

Officials are taking a range of steps as infections surge. For instance, the Thai Navy has prepared 1,200 extra beds at its facilities for patients.