COVID-19 Pandemic in Thailand
Every country in the world hoped to tackle the pandemic in the best way, using all the accumulated information concerning the related departments- preparing tactics, and contemplating the worst possible outcomes. However, the Prayut Government has been everything but clear about the situation and planning to its citizens.
The Kingdom of Thailand, also known as Siam, lies in a Buddhist-dominated region; it is the most visited country in Southeast Asia. Tourism in the country contributes to a whopping 12 trillion in the Economy.
Thailand was in fear when everybody heard about the coronavirus as it’s the favorite place for Chinese tourists; every fear came live in its spirit when the world’s first COVID-19 case outside of China was detected in Thailand.
Thousands of Chinese visitors came to Thailand in January (approx. 7,000), these numbers were known to the government, but there was no concern shown. The Country’s dictatorship government waited for the shoe to drop. However, fortunately, they were able to control the outbreak throughout 2020, but the latter year came with a new shoe brand, and the government could not tackle the effects of the population.
While the governments of the world survived 2020, a rumble occurred in 2021. From April 2021 onwards, a new wave of infections arose in the population. All of it was traced back to the nightclubs, boxing matches, and other illegal activities of the night howlers- mainly due to the ease of restrictions.
On 17th May, Thailand reported more than 9,000 cases with a 7 day average of 3,745 cases; irrespective of this, domestic travel is starting to resume in the country; however, international travel remains banned.
The country traveled from a traveler’s paradise to one of the coronavirus hot zones. Thailand has relied heavily on tourism, and the situations led to a tourist desert in the province; the city came in confusion, already in a panic over the daily rise in infections, people nationwide are tackling the tsunami of information and struggling between what to believe and what to discard as fake.
The worst thing about the country, which was so successful in controlling the situation at the start, is now in crosshair with no sign of an end to the pandemic; people are starting to lose hope. It's a detailed guide to the Covid-19 Situation in Thailand.
A Comparison Between the West and East
The Asian countries handled the pandemic better than the European nations and the U.S.; an explanation for this can be the authoritarian governments of the province. The Asian governments were able to control the citizens, their movements s and hence the spread of the virus was controlled in these.
China’s response to the pandemic was mainly to the military-dominated conservative government and could easily procure a driven effort for the cause. The Thai government has a similar power to the Chinese due to the Military dictatorship in the country; they were able to impose and contain it initially but became soft later due to the crippling per capita.
The second strain of the virus – B.1.7variant originated in the Thang Lo area province of Bangkok in April. This strain was first identified by the U.K government and was responsible for the shortage of hospital beds and thousands dying. It somehow traveled back to Thailand and caused a robust increase in numbers.
The Backdrop of the Situation
WHO worked closely with the officials of the Thailand and China to confirm the reports of the novel coronavirus in person in Thailand to prepare a plan. These reports were analyzed to come up with a clause that could help shape the other countries’ policies.
The first infected person in Thailand – a traveler from Wuhan(Hubei), China acted as a carrier for the virus. The person was identified by Thai officials and admitted to the hospital on 8th January 2020 through screening at the airport. WHO issued guidance to other countries, and Thai officials implemented preferred measures.
China shared the genetic sequencing of the virus with WHO; it enabled other countries to diagnose the virus and carry out the treatments. This case of the virus was different from the SARS 2003 strain, which was quickly contained.
Everything was chill; February was gone; Thailand only reported 40 cases. The situation was considered to be under control, but bad things happened when you are at ease. The first death in Thailand occurred on 1st March, and the number of cases started surging around March-April.
The tracing lead to numerous cases in a day and eventually, what the world had to endure was on its way to Thailand. Prime minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha declared a medical emergency on 26th March, and the country went into a lockdown from 3rd April.
COVID-19 cases in Thailand stood between 200,000 and 250,000 for June, with an everyday death count of approximately 1500. The situation was getting critical, and restrictions had to intensify; domestic travel was banned, public and private establishments were closed.
The public health authorities stabilized the situation very soon. A committee was organized, and despite the officials discarding mass testing, patients were traced by contact tracing, hospitalizing those with severe symptoms.
The government was doing its job to its extent, but the Village Health Volunteers (VHVs) played a significant role in flattening the curve of COVID-19 at the community level. The volunteers monitored the activities of the villagers and conducted home visits- to check the temperature, provide medicines and prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the volunteers made a record of the household people’s movement and their health information which was reported to the provincial health office and then to the Central Government.
A million VHV volunteers worked across the country in addition to the 15,000 public health volunteers in Bangkok.
While the world was battling with the novel coronavirus strain, life was at an average pace and usual in Bangkok in most parts at the start of 2020. Offices remained open; people were visiting the markets openly without any caution and mainly flocked them like the bees.
Causal temperature checks at the entrances, a few questions from where are you coming and going. Life in Bangkok was every day, and people were not even concerned with the world; they were carrying out their livings and raising money somehow.
The situation was revealed on social media. The world media grew furious at the authorities and the people of Thailand, which was expected, as other parts of the world were severe.
Thailand was warned about the potential threats of the outbreak, but the numbers gave the courage to walk. Italy was at 3000+ deaths in a day while the local infected people in Thailand were at 800+ only. The social media shaming and the judgments of the socially righteous people made the officials take some precautionary measures.
Demented Steps of the Government
Thai government tangled between the efforts to curb the pandemic and the spread of the outbreak amidst anger of the initial handling process, which in turn caused to take up some unannounced policies. The government canceled the visa on arrival of 18 countries and visa exemptions for 3 – the decision was taken under rusk and pressure.
The decision was confusing as they canceled the plan of visa cancellation on the following day as it can’t be put in place without approval from the cabinet. But the Buddha came in their dream, or something occurred, and again the visas were canceled the next day until 30th September.
These actions by the Thai government created confusion among the people of the country and travelers.
They imposed a ‘Soft-Lockdown in the country when it more really needed the state of emergency, the disorganization, in the beginning, led the swinging shoe right on the face of government. Then came the sudden closure, and with no money to survive, people started migrating from the capital, which led to the spread of the disease.
The lack of the national organization and the government’s inability led to the horrific situation in June, lead to thousands of deaths. The ineffective government structure empowered the health officials to take it on their shoulders to bring the nation back from the grip of the novel coronavirus.
The health officials were able to identify the first case with the help of screening at the airports beginning from January. Every traveler was scanned, and the ones with respiratory diseases and high temperatures were isolated from others, and details of the passengers were taken, and they have advised isolation.
An aggressive strategy was put in place, and international travelers were made to self-isolate or be confined to government quarantine centers. A committee was specially set up to overlook the monitoring and control operation to curb the virus.
The government adopted the Emergency decree, but the situation was on the verge, and the inefficient steps with the mismanagement led to the downfall. The health officials managed the situation, but initially, they were also in a mixed bag.
The Mask Question
Thai people were already wearing masks before the pandemic due to the high pollution in the city areas; when the disease struck the world, they did not wait for the ill-advised advisory of the WHO or the officials to tell them – wear masks for their safety.
The authorities conducted a survey, “approximately 99% of the population was wearing masks by mid-march” – the people were aware of their situations. They were taking precautionary measures for the prevention of the disease. Those events cleared the people’s motives and how much they were serious about preventing the spread of the virus.
The numbers of people wearing masks were highest compared to 15% in the U.K., 44% in France, and 48% in the U.S... This responsibility of the people saved them to an extent, and it was either due to communal pressure or compliance with the government advisories.
The Severity of the Outbreak
The virus has an incubation period of 14 days, and the symptoms won’t show until it had reached a state of maturity within the individual. The whole city was put under lockdown, but the people of Thailand did not feel the severity. The inconsistent precautions being implemented from one side to another provided some precautions but not that effective. It took a while for travelers and people to understand that “cleanliness is next to godliness.”
The Harsh Decisions
With the spread of the virus to an extent, the ministry would come on its knees if things went on the same track for a little while. On 22nd March, the Health Ministry of Thailand came up with the idea of identifying areas based on their threat level – two types of infectious zones were made and were sealed as per the number of increasing cases.
The ministry was awake to identify the threat of stocking the medical equipment. They announced on 4th February-“all the medical equipment’s mainly masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, polypropylene, and toilet paper as controlled goods.” Prices of the following items were controlled and placed under the Goods and Services Act, followed by a cabinet resolution, due to which the supply of the medical equipment was carried out smoothly in the country.
The officials made many attempts to educate people and avoid any fuss regarding the stockpiling of items; eventually, people were encouraged to make masks from cloth at home, preventing droplets of more than one micron.
What accounted for the high degree of compliance to advisories?
The citizens followed the health advisories and the restrictions of the government. However, the persuasion was the people’s doing, and the campaign became successful because of the solid personal hygiene of the Thai’s.
The Thai are hygienically conscious, and a non-Thai can quickly realize the level of hygiene upon entering a Thai household. These practices are not upper or lower class; they are embedded in the Thai culture and community, the hygiene practices communally governed and enforced.
Despite being a turbulent society, rented out by social conflict, Thailand’s history of social conflict makes public health even more remarkable. Public health is in non-politicized areas of social life, and the public health authorities enjoy the trust of the state officials what the high-profile leader doesn’t even have.
The relation of the public with the health rose from several health campaigns and majorly incorporated the corporation between public health authorities and civil society that dates back to 50 years ago.
The trust got strengthened when the COVID-19 kicked in; it made the people reconcile into personal, social, and economic sacrifices- whatever was required of them. Without the trust, the handling of the situation and coming under control in such an early time would not have been possible; the volunteers, public, and health officials joined hands to curb the virus.
“The cost of the medical assistance no longer turned people off,” a reporter claimed in media. “They trust the doctors and the healthcare system; they do not hesitate to seek the help of doctors if they are battling COVID-19.
Thailand’s efforts emphasize the public healthcare system with popular legitimacy and trust among the people. It made a difference in the crisis and undoubtedly could have saved hundreds and thousands around the globe.
The country’s leadership was keen on obtaining vaccines from the manufacturers of the world and the efforts were made – 26 million doses were procured from AstraZeneca (having an efficiency of 70%). The vaccine comes under two doses so the purchase could only benefit 13 million people (the population of Thailand is more than 60 million).
The kingship ordered 21 million more doses in 2021 for the remaining population and the arrangements were made with the respected governments. The authorities were also brave enough to import 2 million doses of vaccine from Sinovac, a Chinese company from February to April 2021.
Second wave and the Economy Curbing
While Thailand was fortunate enough to ride smoothly on the first wave due to the healthcare system, the second wave came with an economic seizure on the population. It was due and the government saw it coming, as Thailand is much dependent on the tourists’ money – it makes up a large part of the country’s GDP.
There were barely any tourists, the prominent spots were deserted, and the Economy endured a considerable setback. 20% of Thailand’s GDP comes from the tourist sector, and with the number of tourists plunging, businesses were struggling with their survival.
Large chains could make offers and cut down the price to attract more people into their business. Big Companies affected the most like Central Online, Lazada Group, Grab compony, and more dropped its customers due to falling in sales. On normal days customers are more interested in traveling and by using ส่วนลด Klook many customers save and enjoy their trips but the time has changed. However, the smaller places, shops in the market, the lady selling gifts on a bench, the guy repairing vehicles in localities- these were the people who were already destroyed by the first wave, and the second wave would have led them to a dead state.
The government tried to avoid the economic seizure, but the health department was looking at this with closed-fists, “they are handling the second wave slower and less effectively,” – a health official stated in the press.
The government did not impose a nationwide lockdown, and there were minor restrictions in the region; and a government spokesperson gave the statement, “people are responsible for their health.”
“People can die without a livelihood if they survived the pandemic,” a member of the assembly reported. Small businesses were closing and the shop owners started taking up whatever jobs to stay afloat. It is not a good sign for any Economy and hence came the effects.
The IMF contracted Thailand’s economic forecast by 6.75 in 2020, making it the worst performer in the ASEAN nations. IMF in January predicted the expansion of the economy by 2.5 to 3.5% in 2021, with a warning of the Economy slumping further if the situation does not come to a halt by the end of the second quarter.
Authorities are planning to open the borders of hotspot Phuket from1st July and make it tourist heaven once again to counter the effects of the COVID-19. These measures are criticized within the nation and in the media; doctors and health officials are still questioning why the government is keen on opening it so soon.
Households and the Challenging Situations
The situation of the households worsen in the crisis; they started facing poverty, stagnant wage growth; even the World Bank reported the rise of poverty in Thailand from 2016 at a steady rate. People who owned stalls and smaller shops, non-funded businesses were shut, and the owners were even ready to sell their houses for a living.
The Thai king approved a loan to borrow up to 500 billion Baht ($15.8 billion) to combat the effects of the Pandemic. As per the officials, “300 billion for relief measures, 170 billion for reviving the economy and the remaining 30 billion for tackling the outbreak.”
Festivals are Getting Canceled
While they planned to open the country for international travel and invite the tourist, the officials emphasized canceling religious festivals. The government took the measures and canceled the significant festivals like the Songkran Festival and the public religious gatherings; nationwide, there was a stop to the significant public gatherings in April.
Other events like Koh Phangan full moon party- a regular event in the Thai culture got canceled in the admits of the Covid-19 crisis. The government took it upon itself to cancel all the concerts and events in April.
COVID-19 and Chinese
As the nation started unfolding to come back to its original state, the Chinese started becoming a victim of hate among the Thai’s and around the globe. Several restaurants are putting up posters “we do not serve Chinese customers.”
Many locals move out of the restaurants and hotel premises if they encounter a Chinese person there, which has motivated more owners to discriminate against the Chinese people. The health minister of the country gave some negative comments on the westerns and the non-Thai people.
Conclusion of the Crisis
The country’s economic crisis imposed restrictions on the livelihood of the individuals, and now when the country is planning to open, it creates an opportunity to rethink the traditional, employment-based foundations of social protection policy in Thailand.