May 3rd sees the first of four steps which will see all business premises including bars and entertainment venues reopened in Thailand before the start of July. The Thai government on Wednesday pushed through an emergency regulation giving it full control or a veto over any decision made to ease the economic lockdown. It comes as Thailand still reels from the economic impact of these measures as Sweden, a country which kept its economy open, is reporting the first inklings of herd immunity and an automatic reduction in infection rates in Stockholm.
Despite rushing through a new law to control provincial authorities on Wednesday night, the Thai government today pressed ahead with the first steps towards easing the economic lockdown which has seen up to 27 million Thais left unemployed and without income. From Sunday, May 3rd, a range of shops may open across the country depending on confirmation from provincial authorities.
Following a seesaw in speculation, the Covid 19 centre on Thursday finally clarified what it termed as the first of a series of steps which will see the reopening of the Thai economy going ahead next Sunday, May 3rd.
A legal order issued on Wednesday, however, made such moves by provincial governors subject to approval and scrutiny by the national government in Bangkok as it continues to monitor the level of infection and threat posed by the virus.
Covid 19 centre spokesman announced the measures but emphasised that the curfew and other restrictions such as inward travel to Thailand remain in force
Details were given on Thursday by Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, the now familiar and popular spokesman for the Centre of Covid 19 Situation Administration centre.
Dr Taweesilp made it clear that the 10 pm to 4 am curfew remains in place as does the ban on international travel with all incoming passenger flights prohibited until May 31st at the earliest.
Government advice to stay at home remains in place
The spokesman also clarified that the government still wishes the public to work from home where possible and desist from travel, particularly inter-provincial travel to keep the infection rate low.
He outlined six types of business that will be allowed to reopen by the national government.
These include outdoor markets, food, drinks and ice cream shops including food stalls.
Retail and wholesale shops including community shops, phone and IT outlets, sports centres, barbers and hairdressing shops as well as pet grooming services can also open their doors.
The operation of all businesses, however, is subject to stringent health and quarantine standards. There was also be specific sanitation practices as well as strict observance of social distancing.
First of four steps which could see all premises reopened in Thailand by early July if all goes well
Dr Tawesilp emphasised that this was the first step and would be monitored for 14 days.
He indicated that further easement of the lockdown of business concerns would follow.
He estimated that the full process would take a further two months from now until early July. However, if the infection rate rises again, then the restrictions may be reimposed.
Reopening programme will later include bars, entertainment venues and massage parlours
The government programme for reopening business looks like it will include bars, pubs, restaurants and massage parlours in the final steps.
Dr Tawesilp suggested that large concerns, football matches and boxing stadiums would be among the business premises allowed to reopen in the final stage.
27 million people out of work, these health protection measures have caused huge economic hardship
The news will at least give business owners and the public some sort of direction as the effects of the lockdown on small business and Thailand’s large number of self-employed people has caused deep economic damage and hardship.
It is estimated that up to 27 million Thai people have been left without income. There are also growing numbers of poignant suicide reports throughout the country in recent weeks as scant savings have been used up.
Expert academic group warns that more Thai people will have died from suicide than the virus
An expert academic group from Chiang Mai and Chulalongkorn Universities warned last weekend that the death toll from suicides as a result of the economic lockdown could well far exceed the toll of deaths due to the virus over the coming weeks.
The Thai Prime Minister Pryayuth Chan ocha had earlier this week asked for business owners who constitute a large proportion of Thailand’s population, to be patient but promised that steps were being planned to address their concerns while still treating public health as a priority.
Concern on Wednesday night over emergency law
There was deep concern among business owners on Wednesday night as hopes that had been raised during the previous 72 hours that a range of small businesses in Thailand could reopen, looked like being dashed.
This uncertainty followed a move by the Prime Minister and the national government overseeing the Covid 19 response.
An order under Section 9 of the kingdom’s State of Emergency Act was issued on Wednesday evening and quickly published in the Royal Gazette.
It instructed all provincial governors including the powerful Governor of Bangkok, Aswin Kwanmuang, to suspend any moves to reopen a proposed range of business concerns until such measures were scrutinised and approved by the government at a national level by the Covid 19 administration centre.
All business will reopen barring an upsurge in infections or a second wave seen in other countries
For now, the position is, that barring an upsurge in infection or a setback, business in Thailand may be up and running as normal again in the early days of July.
The government has signalled a roll out and full easing of lockdowns if the daily number of virus infections can be kept under 30 cases over any 14 days.
The threat of such a setback, unfortunately, is very real. Germany reported a rise in the infection rate this week as it opened small shops and businesses.
We have also seen a serious second wave or outbreak of the virus in Japan and Singapore.
Challenge is to prevent a further outbreak
Thereafter, the challenge for Thailand will be to prevent a second or third wave by controlling entry to the country, an expansion of testing capability and later perhaps in 2021, a vaccine.
As the world counts the momentous cost of this virus in terms of human lives lost, Thailand has, so far, fared relatively well.
However, the economic cost to Thailand as in western countries may be huge.
Sweden, a good news story that may make disturbing reading for world leaders including those in Thailand
This week, Sweden reached a total of over 2,270 deaths from the virus as that country, uniquely in the world, did not impose a lockdown or restrictions on business or even primary level schools.
The country defied world norms and even the advice of the World Health Organisation and many among its academic elite.
It was a strategy initially favoured also in the United Kingdom but quickly dumped as the extent of the potential loss of life there emerged.
The man who had pushed the strategy has been Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell who indicated this week that the country has already seen evidence that herd immunity in Stockholm is automatically reducing the impact of the virus.
Mr Tegnell and Sweden’s leaders have consistently denied the herd immunity policy and pointed to a failure to implement government orders in respect of nursing homes which would have seen a far lower death rate in that kingdom than already seen.
One-third of people in Stockholm may have immunity from the virus as of May 1st producing an impact
Sweden’s Public Health Agency estimates that 600,000 people in Stockholm or approximately one-third of the population will have been infected with the virus by May 1st and that the country has already passed its peak in the last week.
The herd immunity and business as usual policy coupled with other specifics control measures and clear guidance to the public has drawn huge condemnation from the medical and academic community in Sweden as being too irresponsible.
However, the government policy has been popular and it looks like Sweden is emerging out of the crisis without having seen a forced economic lockdown.
Sweden has seen a higher death rate than Nordic neighbours but less than half that of Italy and Spain
Sweden has 22 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 4 for its Nordic neighbours or even 2 for the Czech Republic but its figures compare well to Italy, Spain and the UK where the figures are 45, 51 and 32 respectively.
Notably, while the scientists and medical experts have criticised the government, they have never questioned the data, science and concept of herd immunity which the government only claims to be part of its response.
‘We know very little about the immunity of this disease, but most of the experts in Sweden agree that some kind of immunity we definitely will have because a lot of people that have been tested so far have produced antibodies. We hope this will make it easier for us in the long run,’ said Anders Tegnell his week.
There so much yet to be known about this virus and particularly its ability to mutate and carry different loads.
The question of death rates is a big one.
Many ascribe the ability of Sweden to pursue such a course and pull it off to its society which has smaller households and more disciplined living conditions.
Swedish death rate over 300 times that of Thailand
Thailand’s authorities might argue that the coronavirus, if it had been left unchecked, would have seen intolerable levels of death and the breakdown of the health system.
So far, its death rate per 100,000 has been a minuscule 0.07 even though it was the country that first reported a case of human to human transmission outside China.
If Thailand had a similar death rate then the kingdom would have seen nearly 17,000 deaths.
Covid 19 virus that originated in China is still a perplexing mystery even as the world finally begins to grapple with it but answers will come
It will be interesting to see if mass testing, at some stage, can reveal the level of infection generally amongst the population in Thailand because if Chinese scientists are correct and this virus becomes a recurring illness, then the immunity level will have to be considered given that 75% of those who contract the disease show no symptoms and that the widespread availability of an affordable vaccine may yet be some time off.