All smiles in Phuket but Thailand’s darkest day yet reveals the reality of ongoing Covid crisis

Jul 02, 2021 | 

Thai Rath printed a great swathe of separate stories and observations on the day that the much heralded Phuket Sandbox opening to foreign tourism happened. 

It was meant to be a day of smiles. A day when the Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha could revel in the mother of all international photo-ops as he welcomed foreign tourists back.

But the reality behind the messages of hope and songs for the future was entirely different. 

The country suffered its worst number of Covid-19 cases AND deaths in a single day. The pandemic was out of control, by some accounts.

A deputy at the public health ministry said Bangkok was in crisis and more doctors were needed to save lives. 

A north eastern Thailand MP reported they had been hospitalized with a blood clot after vaccination as the PM was slammed for importing sub-standard vaccine. 

Then just when it looked like it could not get worse for the government, the new Digital Economy and Society minister has had to quarantine after being on a flight with an infected person. 

Guess where he had flown into – yes, Phuket.

Thai Rath – easily the country’s most influential media – juxtaposed the back slapping bonhomie of the politicians against the stark reality on the ground. 

There was no hiding that Thailand’s day of optimism coincided with their greatest day of crisis. 

Down on the southern Thai island of Phuket Prayuth arrived all smiles in the morning for a big day that culminated in the late afternoon with the welcome of 51 tourists on Singapore Airlines SQ736. 

He was proud of the Phuket people. “This was the day everyone had been waiting for”. We had to take a risk for the good of the nation, he expounded as everyone nodded.

There were selfies with the excited arrivals clearly thrilled to have a prime minister greet them. 

Tourism minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn – one again revealed as hopelessly out of his depth – muttered something about waiting 15 days to see if there was more infection. He was largely ignored by the media who had bigger fish to fry.

“Hug Thais Hug Phuket” was the slogan of the day. Prayuth even found time to hug some turtles down at the beach. 

There the environment minister Varavut Silpa-archa had arrived early to pick up 806 kilos of trash that had blown in. Of course it was “pristine” when the PM arrived – a fine example of the window dressing that was the order of the day. 

But it was window dressing that could not conceal the reality.

It was announced there had been 5,533 new Covid-19 cases, a new daily record. 

There was also another grim record – 57 deaths. 

It was a far cry from a year ago when Rayong virtually shut down because one person had Covid. 

As Prayuth sung songs of hope deputy at the MoPH Dr Sura Wisetsak further rained on his parade. He was outlining the reality in Bangkok, the Thai capital, that he said was in the grip of a major crisis. 

He said:

There are no beds left.

They can’t control the new variant.

More doctors – even the recently qualified – are needed to save lives NOW.

Much of the capital is in lockdown in all but name. Thai Rath quoted the chief of the nightime entertainment industry as saying “open now or we’re all dead”. He appeared to mean this metaphorically as the economy is destroyed. 

As Prayuth tried to put a brave face on the mess with a Facebook post outlining a “Better Today” further bad news hit.

Kalasin Pheu Thai opposition MP Pheerapetch Sirikin said he was hospitalized with a blood clot after being jabbed with AstraZeneca – the great hope that is the locally produced vaccine. 

He needed emergency care. 

The PM was criticized for importing sub-standard vaccine and not caring about the Thai people.

Then came a final nail in a day that will go down in history.

Digital Environment and Society minister Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn who had traveled on Vietjet VZ 314 from Suvarnabhumi to Phuket was forced to go into 14 day quarantine on the island after being close to someone who tested positive for Covid.

The minister only recently took up his post after the previous incumbent was drummed out after a court convicted him of sedition charges.

July 1st was billed as D-Day.

No one told the government that “D” stood for disaster.