Free food in Phuket for stranded Russians as Aeroflot begins airlifts in Thailand from Phuket where there are 8,000 alone registered on the holiday island. Scenes of people on Phuket, mostly Thai but also foreigners, making queues for free food tells how deep the impact of this emergency is. It also tells us that some people are responding in the best way.

Russia has begun airlifting some of its stranded nationals out of Thailand with the first flight last Friday leaving Phuket. The tourist island is currently home to 8,000 Russian tourists looking for a ticket home. On Friday, three of them received a free lunch from a growing effort in Phuket involving restaurants and businesses helping to feed those in need including Thais and stranded foreigners. 

A Russian woman and her two male compatriots received two helpings of food on Friday morning from an expanding free food initiative which has taken off on the resort island catering to many Thai nationals dependant on the tourism industry and those out of employment who are desperate even for food at this time when the island is effectively closed off from the rest of the country because of its high infection rate. Aeroflot flew 228 stranded Russian tourists out of Phuket on Friday where over 8,000 tourists from that country alone have reported themselves as stranded to Russian authorities.

On Friday, a Russian Aeroflot flight landed in Phuket and flew 228 Russian nationals back home to St Petersburg on a 10-hour flight and later transported them to Moscow.

It comes as the plight of stranded foreign tourists in Thailand is beginning to deteriorate drastically as the effects of the nationwide shutdown begin to bite. Thailand’s population is also growing more tense and uneasy.

In a Suan Dusit poll published on Sunday in the Bangkok Post, nearly 90% of Thais admitted they were worried about the situation and up to 60% said they did not have confidence in the government’s handling of the emergency.

Lack of hotels and travel restrictions

The problems range from lack of available hotels, restrictions on transport to the most common one of all which is, of course, lack of money.

It is understood that, as of last week, there were up to 21,000 Russian nationals who had registered at their government’s specified website requesting an opportunity to return home. 8,000 of these are reported to be in Phuket.

The figures were confirmed by the Russian ambassador to Thailand Evgeny Tomikhin over the weekend.

The next series of airlifts will be from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Four flights from Suvarnabhumi Airport but they are not free as Russian government lays down terms

Four more similar airlifts are scheduled to take off from Suvarnabhumi Airport this week bringing home Russian tourists who have met strict requirements set by that country’s authorities.

These requirements include payment of $200 to $400 for the flight where the passengers had no return ticket or booked with a foreign airline.

All qualifying passengers must have arrived in Thailand from Russia no later than the 1st of January 2020 and have reported with the government’s website.

Moscow hit by hospital crisis on Sunday

They will be returning to a country now in the grips of a coronavirus emergency of its own that is just beginning to take off with reports from Moscow on Sunday of queues of ambulances waiting at hospitals for up to 15 hours trying to deliver patients suffering from acute coronavirus symptoms.

Phuket has become a key centre of infection and tensions in Thailand during the Covid 19 emergency

For those from Russia, like other foreigners from western countries stuck in Thailand, the virus appears from government data to be coming under control but both national and provincial level regulations are presenting difficulties for foreigners with no permanent place of residence, an inability to speak Thai and a scarcity of resources.

Tensions between foreigners and Thai nationals in the last week have been frayed.

Phuket has been one of those areas where tensions have been raised with several controversial incidents. One of those led to the large Phuket based Facebook page, Spotlight Thailand, with nearly 600,000 follows being shut down by the Silicon valley tech giant after it launched an outlandish and out of character attack of foreign tourists referring to the industry at this time as #shit tourism.

The popular tourist city which has the highest rate of infection per 100,000 of the population in the country at 33.6 is becoming also the source of positive news. 

The city and island go into full lockdown mode for two weeks on Monday.

Closed off tourist island in special need

Phuket has been closed off from the rest of Thailand as the island quickly became a hotspot for the infection.

Many of those on the island were formerly employed by the tourism industry and are now desperate as they attempt to access government handouts.

Many people, some whose status is uncertain, are simply going hungry.

Tales of great kindness, initiative and the best of human spirit from Phuket over the weekend

This has led to tales of genuine humanity which have been emerging in Phuket where tens of thousands of foreigners like many all over Thailand have been left stranded because of the Covid 19 epidemic with no means of returning home and no money.

Amazingly, the heart of the goodwill emerging on the island is in Patong, the now-closed entertainment and tourist district that was once home to the island’s colourful nightlife industry.

Throughout Patong in particular and other parts across the island, restaurants and business owners are stepping up to hand out free food and freshly cooked meals to those in need.

Those involved are stressing during this campaign that this is not a PR or marketing gimmick but just an act of humanity during this crisis.

Phuket’s Blue Tree leisure centre at the vanguard of the effort from April 4th starting in Patong

One of the drivers of the initiative is a company called Blue Tree which runs an entertainment and family resort in Thalang. Staff and volunteers from the firm on April 4th started delivering 150 meals a day to the Patong area. 

This has now been expanded to include hospitals and other areas in need.

This activity has sparked a chain reaction with restaurant outlets and businesses in Phuket engaged in a selfless effort to help those in need of food at this time.

3 hungry Russians, a woman and two men offered free food and second helpings on Friday on a quiet street

One notable incident occurred on Friday later morning on a quiet street as a group of 3 Russian foreigners, 2 men and a woman sat near where tasty food was being handed out to Thai nationals by volunteers.

The food at this outlet consisted of a freshly cooked omelette, rice and assorted cooked vegetables.

One of the volunteers, Kittikhun Buntharakworakun, noticed the white foreigners who were sitting in front of the serving area playing on their mobile phones. There were two men and a woman

He inquired if they were hungry. The woman replied yes, everyone was.

When presented with the food cartons they wolfed down the food. They told the volunteer that they had not had anything to eat that morning and they were presented with another helping.

Simple act of kindness that touched volunteers

It was a simple act of kindness that touched the Thai volunteers.

The phenomenal effort in Phuket is spreading around the island as well as within and beyond Patong to include more restaurant outlets including Chinese and Indian establishments to other businesses some owned by foreigners who are working as volunteers to hand out as many food packages as possible to all those in need.

Story shared extensively and seemed important at this time as the spirit of helping others comes to the fore

Mr Kittikhun, who has been in the vanguard of moves to provide food in Patong and other places in need, told the story of the three Russians on Facebook on Friday where it was reshared extensively.

She asked Thais to bear in mind the plight of foreigners left in Thailand with no money or means of support and asked them to consider how they would feel about Thai people in a foreign country in the same predicament. 

Businesses including foreign concerns eager to help

This effort is being expanded through personal connections and invitations from business people to business people to become involved.

One of the companies supporting the efforts is Revolution Gym in Bang Tao. 

Tim Fisher, a volunteer, said on his Facebook page over the weekend: ‘Difficult times for many people around the world. Today it was great to be part of a new initiative to feed the local people of Kamala that are suffering from loss of income due to the Covid-19.’ 

These efforts and sentiments will be much in need during the coming two weeks when the island goes into full lockdown mode until April 26th next.

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Further reading:

Only 7% of applicants for informal sector financial supports have received the green light for payouts

Popular Phuket based Facebook page attacks foreigners and tourists in Thailand as virus tensions mount

Conditions tighten, grow more tense for visitors staying on in Thailand during the to coronavirus emergency