No local transmission of Omicron in Phuket, say officials

PHUKET: Leading Phuket officials held a press conference this morning to call for people to not panic over people arriving on the island from abroad testing positive Omicron. There have been no local transmissions of the COVID variant in Phuket, Dr Kusak Kiattikoon, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Public Health office (PPHO), said.

Dr Kusak this morning led the press conference, held at the PPHO head office in Phuket Town, joined Phuket Vice Governor Pichet Panaphong, Vachira Phuket Hospital Director Dr Weerasak Lorthongkham and Bhummikitti Raktaengam, President of the Phuket Tourist Association.

The press conference was held after the PPHO broke the news yesterday (Dec 19) that five people who had arrived in Phuket on direct flights from abroad last week had tested positive for Omicron.

Phuket Vice Governor Pichet today stressed, “Phuket continues to conduct RT-PCR checks at the airport for the safety of tourists and the public.”

He then explained details of the five arrivals announced yesterday as testing positive for Omicron.

The report yesterday said four of the five landed in Phuket last Monday (Dec 13), and the fifth landed in Phuket last Tuesday (Dec 14).

V/Gov Pichet this morning said that one landed on Dec 12, three landed on Dec 13 and the fifth landed last Tuesday (Dec 14).

Of the five cases, a 36-year-old man from Sweden traveled from Sweden to Thailand and arrived in Phuket on Dec 12. The man was vaccinated with two Pfizer vaccination injections, V/Gov Pichet said.

A 31-year-old American male, also vaccinated with two Pfizer vaccination injections, arrived in Phuket from England on Dec 13, he added.

Also arriving in Phuket on Dec 13 was a 36-year-old Thai national, traveling from Saudi Arabia, V/Gov Pichet noted.

The man traveled via Qatar before landing in Phuket. The man had received two injections of Sinovac and one of Pfizer, and was allowed to travel to Pattani to receive treatment, he said.

A 32-year-old Tunisian male traveling from France arrived in Phuket on Dec 13. The man has been vaccinated with two Pfizer injections and is “receiving treatment” in Phuket, he added.

The fifth case is a 24-year-old woman of German nationality, V/Gov Pichet said. She arrived in Phuket on Dec 14. She has received two injections of Moderna and is also receiving “treatment” in Phuket, he said.

However, less than 24 hours after the PPHO posted its notice announcing the five cases yesterday, and despite V/Gov Pichet’s breakdown of the five cases this morning, Dr Kusak at the press conference today said that only four of the five were now confirmed to be infected with Omicron.

The Swedish man has now been confirmed not to be infected with Omicron, he said.

“There have been no local transmissions of Omicron in the Phuket area. They have only been found among foreign tourists [sic] on Day 0 of their stay, before they were allowed to travel throughout the area,” Dr Kusak said.

“Both the infected and the risk group have undergone rigorous treatment and quarantine procedures,” Dr Kusak assured.

“We ask people not to panic, to strictly follow the measures to protect themselves, especially by wearing masks, and we invite people to receive their third-dose booster vaccination by registering through PhuketMustWin [web portal] now,” he added.

Regarding, “rigorous treatment and quarantine procedures”, the PPHO report posted yesterday itself marked that four of the five initially identified as infected with Omicron were designated to stay at “hospitels” (hotels with medical staff on site). One of the five was allowed to leave the province to receive treatment in Pattani.

Regarding Dr Kusak’s call for people to receive a third-dose booster vaccination, while officials for the past week have been heavily campaigning in Thai for people to register to receive their booster jabs of either Pfizer or Moderna, the PhuketMustWin website itself maintains that the current campaign is for Thai nationals only.

The Phuket News has independently confirmed directly with the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor) that its Moderna booster jab campaign is currently for Thai nationals only. Other people are kindly asked to wait to be informed to register.

“Phuket has strict measures to screen people who travel to the area, especially through Phuket airport,” PPHO Chief Dr Kusak assured this morning.

“Everyone must be tested by RT-PCR method, and when [arrivals are] diagnosed with COVID-19, [officials] will enact public health procedures and conduct rigorous testing of both those who are infected and those who have been exposed to high risk contact who have previously tested negative for the virus,” he said.

Dr Kusak this morning also said that the PPHO had “only recently” been informed that of the five reported as testing positive yesterday, only four had been confirmed as infected with Omicron.

“After testing positive for COVID-19, swab samples of the five were sent to the Department of Medical Sciences for a thorough examination, which confirmed that not five but four are infected with Omicron,” he said.

“After a person tests positive, the sample will be tested for strain isolation at the Phuket officers of the Department of Medical Sciences, which takes at least seven days,” he said.

“When the results show that there is high probability of the Omicron strain, it [the sample] will be sent to the Department of Medical Sciences to test again, which takes about two to three days, Dr Kusak said.

While aiming to inspire confidence that Omicron will be detected at the frontline entry point to Phuket, Dr Kusak did not explain why the news was not announced a week ago, or whether any other arrivals since Dec 13 were suspected of carrying the Omicron variant.

According to the Phuket Reopening Daily Report issued by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), 10,959 arrivals landed in Phuket from abroad from Dec 14-18 alone.

Phuket Vice Governor Pichet called for people across Phuket to remain vigilant in protecting themselves from being infected with any form of COVID-19.

“Phuket is currently in the economic recovery phase. There are various tourism promotion activities, including sports competitions as well as preparing for New Year’s Eve activities to welcome the new year.

“This news coming out may affect the feelings of the people and tourists, but Phuket Province [the provincial government] still insists on strictly enforcing its measures to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 while emphasizing that people continue to follow public health measures to protect themselves and uphold their social responsibility,” he said.

As president of the Phuket Tourist Association, Mr Bhummikitti said, “All tourists coming to Phuket must be screened 100% at the airport, and if found positive, they will be quarantined immediately.

“People can be confident in the screening system of Phuket that has been in effect since the Phuket Sandbox project and that the province’s screening measures are intense. We ask Thai tourists to be confident in this,” he added.

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