ThaiGov sneaks French tourists in to test ‘Phuket model’

File photo of Patong Beach in Phuket. Photo: Jo.sau / Flickr
File photo of Patong Beach in Phuket. Photo: Jo.sau / Flickr

A quartet of French men were indeed allowed into the kingdom on a chartered flight to pilot the proposed “Phuket Model” of reopening limited travel to the resort island, officials confirmed yesterday.

Though the public was kept in the dark about their visit, the island airport’s director said it was meant to test containment protocols. Both the Foreign Affairs Ministry and COVID-19 task force have acknowledged the recent visit took place but did not disclose details about the French tourists’ stay.

Phuket International Airport director Thani Chuangchu said yesterday they had already left for Cambodia. He said the men stayed two weeks at a government-approved hotel and were monitored by local health officials and a security team. He did not say if they were allowed to leave the unspecified hotel, but said there were no reports of local transmission afterward.

Reactions to the news were mixed, but most on either side of the issue said the government should have been transparent about the plan rather than keep it secret.

Fending off criticism, Phuket Gov. Narong Woonchiew said it was necessary to thoroughly test the protocols planned to allow a limited number of long-term tourists onto the island, where they would stay in semi-quarantine before being allowed to travel onward. Narong said the exercise would help when it comes time to implement the full program.

Set to start in October, the plan is facing possible delay due after a case of domestic transmission was found Thursday after 100 days of none detected.

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