Thailand is one of the most crowded countries in the whole of Asia, thanks to the number of tourists it welcomes with open arms year after year. Apart from the capital city of Bangkok, the country’s 1,000-plus islands attract travellers from all over the world.
In 2016, Thailand had 32.6 million visitors, which rose by nearly nine percent from 2015. The year, 2017 saw the number of tourists visiting Thailand exceeded 35 million, while in 2018 the number surpassed 38 million. The number went beyond 39 million in 2019. Despite the abundance of tourists, across the year, Thailand somehow manages to keep its charm. Among Thailand’s top 25 arrivals by nationality, India falls in the third place, behind China and Malaysia.
When we visited the South-East Asian country in January, everything was normal back then. It was a short trip, comprising Bangkok and Pattaya, which turned out to be pretty memorable. We could not visit Phuket because of time constraints and when returned after our four-day trip, little did we know the country, especially Phuket would go on to witness its worst phase in many years.
The coronavirus pandemic has shattered Thailand like never before. Even the deadly SARS virus, which affected 26 countries in 2003, and the 2004 tsunami could not affect as much as the latest pandemic virus has done. Phuket is one of the more popular islands among tourists for its crystal beaches, water activities and overall natural scenic beauty. The roads are usually full of large tour buses and rented bikes as tourists are all day busy exploring Phuket’s ports, beaches and other attractions.
According to CNN travel, there is no such sight in Phuket anymore. There are no speed boats on the water, the streets and beaches are empty, while there are a very few tourists spotted these days in Phuket: This has not happened in the last 30 years, at least.
The government has taken extreme measured to curb the virus after 170 confirmed cases were reported by April 10. According to government statistics, there are about 38.95 cases per 100,000 people in Phuket and 21.90 per 100,000 in Bangkok. Overall, Thailand has reported 2,473 coronavirus cases, with 33 deaths.
While extensive testing is underway, especially in Phuket, the government announced a complete lockdown for all the 17 sub-districts of the island for 14 days. The locals and the remaining tourists have been asked to stay indoors from April 13 to April 26 as Phuket became Thailand’s first province to impose a lockdown.
While the Phuket International Airport has closed all non-essential flights, the hotels without any bookings currently have been ordered to remain closed and the ones that are open have been instructed to restrict access to communal areas such as swimming pools and restaurants. Reportedly, Phuket has over 88,000 registered hotels and it is known that around 88% of those are shut at the moment, taking a massive toll on the tourism industry. Only five hotels have been designated to take new bookings to lodge any remaining tourists on the island.
There have been similar scenes reported in other touristy cities such as Barcelona, Spain. The city, which had recorded over 30 million travellers last years, is currently deserted. Spain recently surpassed Italy and now is the second-worst affected country by the pandemic virus after the US.