Monday, April 19

Thailand’s biggest island on lockdown to contain Coronavirus

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Phuket in Thailand is on lockdown starting Monday, with most transportation to the island banned, in the latest effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the usually popular tourist destination. The order will last for at least 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 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% 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 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 Co. Ltd., is temporarily suspending all domestic and international flights. Bangkok Airways Pcl and Thai Airways International Pcl 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.