Thailand’s approach to Corona


This is the Thai’s government daily Covid update for May 20 2020 (2563 in Thai, since not only are they forward thinkers but they use the Buddhist calendar.)

Loose translation: On May 20, 2020, for a total population of almost 70 million people, Thailand had 3034 confirmed cases (+1 since the day before), 2888 recovered (+31 since the day before), 56 deaths (no change). The new case is a repatriated Thai citizen in state quarantine, like most new cases for weeks.

Per the European CDC, that brings Thailand to 44 confirmed cases per million, and 0.8 deaths per million. For comparison, the US has 4838 cases/million and 290 deaths/million. Sweden, (who never locked down) has 3249 cases/million and 389 deaths/million.

Pop-up Covid shop at the mall: Masks, shields, ponchos, sanitizer. Even N95s.

Steve and I spent the winter in Thailand. We were here when the pandemic exploded in Wuhan, when Thailand diagnosed the first case outside China, and when the world shut down. We weren’t yet ready to leave in March, then flights became scarce, until they disappeared. International flights to Thailand are closed until July. And it’s a long walk home.

The first sign that things were getting funky came in February: the Chinese tourists crowding the streets and malls disappeared almost overnight. All of a sudden, traffic started flowing, the restaurants turned quiet and the shops uncrowded. The locals loved it. Until the restaurants and shops started closing due to lack of business.

Then people started wearing face masks.

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Since gyms and pools are closed, this formerly crowded parking lot is where we play badminton and jog. Social distancing isn’t a problem, but the heat is: above 100 daily.

Ignorant, we thought. But, out of respect for the locals, we started wearing them too, even before the government made them mandatory.

Then came the Emergency Decree and the 10 to 4 curfew. Nonessential business, from malls to massage parlors, were closed, including all restaurants, public pools, and entertainment venues. That put the last nail in the coffin of tourism, and bankrupted many cash-poor businesses. Flights got cancelled, schools closed, city buses stopped.

But Thai being what they are – flexible, pragmatic, and funny – most non-essential businesses, from IT stores lo lingerie shops, made themselves essential overnight by offering face masks, safety glasses or hand sanitizer.

Essential shops: Hats, bags, sunglasses and masks.

The biggest event of April is Songkran, the Thai New Year – an alcohol-fueled week-long street party celebrating rain. Passers-by shoot water guns and douse each other with water. Businesses sell ponchos, safety glasses and booze, and offer barrels and hoses with free water for refueling. Songkran is the time of wet t-shirts, phones wearing zipper bags, and drinking with wet strangers for young people of any age.

Last year’s Songkran. Last year’s phone, too, for the guy in orange.

This year, Songkran was cancelled. To encourage compliance, the government declared a week-long alcohol ban making Thailand go dry. The ban was announced two days early, so everybody got to stock up, and the hospitals were notified to get ready for the inflow of new cases – not of Covid, but of alcohol withdrawal.

Last year’s Songkran: A little girl refilling her bucket under her mother’s watchful eye.

To encourage compliance, the government provided daily updates on the state of COVID, including summaries in English detailing the number and provenience of new cases and deaths, and insisting on social distancing, masks and hand hygiene. They organized field hospitals. They are now stockpiling Favipiravir, (Avigan) to prepare for the second wave.

But for now, they’re letting loose. After the number of new cases went down to single digits, the economy slowly restarted. Mom-and-pop shops, then small outdoor restaurants, now parks, malls, gyms and hairdressers. Still closed: Bars, cinemas, entertainment venues, muay-thai arenas, bull fighting, fish fighting, and massage parlors.

I expected the pent-up demand to explode everything into opening on day one, like a piñata. Not exactly. Businesses are taking their time. The famous Chiang Mai walking streets, always choking with food, shopping and entertainment, are empty. The Saturday Night Market street was a post-apocalyptic scene on Saturday night, empty but for the ghosts of Saturdays past.

Saturday Night Market Street now.

Thai adopted the idea of social distancing. So much so that passers-by will give you ugly looks if you walk without a mask, restaurant owners will send you to wash your hands before serving you, people will wave you away rather than share an elevator, and bikers will wear a mask even when they don’t wear a helmet – both required by the law.

Last year’s Saturday Night Market.

Most Thai support the closure of entertainment venues, even though many struggle: the bar-girls in Loh Kroh, the elephant sanctuaries, the massage parlors, the tuk-tuk drivers. The Phuket airport is closed. Drones patrol the Pattaya beaches, keeping sun worshippers away. Chiang Mai hasn’t had a new case in weeks, but our pool is still closed.

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Community pantries exploded everywhere. People drop off food and essentials for those in need. Items in high demand: Rice, oil, and eggs. But anything helps.

Even beyond the government’s requirements, the opening is slower than we, expats, would like. Very cautious too. Before allowing you in, malls check your temperature and take your phone number, for screening and tracing. Thankfully, they use forehead thermometers, otherwise we’d be hurting.

A buddhist nun enjoying the park

After a successful trial on mice, Thai researchers are testing a new vaccine on monkeys. Another step towards normal, even though the new normal won’t be like the old. That’s not all bad. If I had my say, the days of hugging and kissing casual strangers would be over. So would overcrowded highways, rat-sized cubicles, sardine-packed planes, air pollution and two hour commutes.

Thinking of you all. Missing you, and missing life as it used to be. Don’t know when we’ll be back, but we’re OK. I hope you are too.

Stay sane, stay safe, and see you on the other side.

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Rada Jones is an ER doc in Upstate NY. She lives with her husband and his deaf black cat Paxil. She’s the author of three ER thrillers, Overdose, Mercy and Poison, and “Stay Away From My ER,” a collection of medical essays.


10 thoughts on “Thailand’s approach to Corona

  1. Hi Rada,
    Nice Rx of the Thai Stay at Home period and the „recovery” period.
    Here in Romania the mask is mandatory only inside ( shops, public transportation, hospitals, markets, etc). Some of the temporary closed business, restarted: hair and nail salons, all shops with entry directly from the street, auto services, medical and dental private business. All of them asking for social distancing and wearing masks.
    People love to socialize so even if all the restaurants and coffee shops are open only for TO GO, some of them hang out together , sweeping the coffee. If sunny and weekends the parks are full of people, on the central paths.
    Only the traffic started to remember me about the old time…

    Stay in touch and take care

    1. Thank you for the info. So glad to hear how things are there! Please stay safe.

  2. Hi Rada! I assume there is “free speech” in Thailand. Out of curiosity, is there any “push back” to the quarantine rules, in the media, ie people saying the virus is a conspiracy or protests demanding that the economy open back up?

    1. Hi David. Right now Thailand is under an Emergency Decree and a curfew, which of course extends the governmental powers, but I haven’t heard any rumblings, and actually people seem to be very much in agreement with the lockdown with two exceptions: One is the expat community, which is not happy with the restrictions, and the other is the alcohol ban – restaurants are still not allowed to serve alcohol, even though one can buy it is stores.

  3. Thanks for the report. If only the American government had been so forward-thinking and Americans so compliant!

    I live in Germany, where there have been 2149 cases/million and 100 deaths/million. There are two things the government failed to do: canceling Carneval (Mardi Gras) celebrations and quarantining the people who returned from skiing in Austria. (Ischgl was the source of Austria’s biggest cluster of Covid-19 cases, infecting more than 800 Austrians and almost 2000 foreigners, particularly Germans and Scandinavians.)

    Fortunately, it is easy to get tested here in Germany. Because I am vulnerable and have had a couple of recent hospitalizations – one due to pneumonia – I have been tested 4 times in the last 2 months.

    Like in the US, there is a rumbling in the population, wanting life to return to the old “normal”. I don’t believe life anywhere in the whole world will return to the old “normal” anytime soon. There will need to be a vaccine first, and it will take years to get enough of the population vaccinated (let’s not even get into the problem with anti-vaxxers!) to provide herd immunity for the vulnerable.

    To all who might be reading this: stay safe!

    1. Thank you for sharing. It’s so interesting to see what other countries did. Keep safe and keep in touch, please.

  4. Thanks for this, Rada , I’m so pleased with Thailand who actually did the right thing at the right time….unlike the U.S.! I’m missing all my people there and at this moment, I don’t have a clue when I will be able to return! I heard an interview with the CEO of American Airlines and when asked about the resumption of international flights he said, “well, that will be very complicated!” So there you go! Take care of yourselves for me because as is said…..I vill return!

  5. Your comments and observations are spot on! Being an English teacher, I generally read with a “red pencil” mentality and it comes with great respect that I say I find nothing needing correction in your post! Such a compliment you do not know! LOL Please continue your posts. They are accurate and informative and show keen insight to your surroundings………

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