Life in Thailand reopens to a ‘new normal’ existence with the effects of the virus expected to be with the kingdom for 6 to 9 months according to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha on Tuesday. He was speaking as a nervous public and health officials strive to get the country back to work. The kingdom has less than 3,000 infections and only 54 deaths which has begun to intrigue observers as Thailand was the first country to report a case of the virus officially to the WHO outside China.
Thailand’s Prime Minister warned on Tuesday that the kingdom could be facing up to 9 more months living with the impact of the Covid 19 coronavirus as the disease wreaks economic devastation on the kingdom. It follows the partial resumption of domestic economic activity on Sunday with a ‘new normal’ of strict hygiene and social distancing measures that have made many mundane small businesses in Thailand’s capital city look like something from a dystopian sci-fi thriller of old.
Thailand’s Prime minister Prayuth Chan ocha, following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, warned that the economic impact of the Covid 19 emergency may stay with the country for up to 9 months.
He was speaking to reporters as several controversies have arisen since the first wave of business reopenings went ahead on Sunday and a nationwide ban on alcohol sales was lifted.
BTS Skytrain scare on Tuesday
On Tuesday, there was panic on Bangkok’s very busy BTS SkyTrain after the system broke down temporarily.
The BTS system roared back to life on Monday with many Thais in the capital heading back to work.
A technical fault had developed on the line between Siam station and the National Stadium.
This caused increased passenger congestion and sparked alarm over the implications for social distancing measures when hundreds of passengers were left stranded together.
However, since Monday, the high level of users on the system has also raised concern as the country nervously attempts to get back to work.
Top Bangkok hotel closes its doors as fears that Thailand is facing 10 million unemployed
It comes as one of Bangkok’s most well-known hotels, the 5 star Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit on Sukhumvit Road summarily laid off its workers as Thailand’s tourism industry has crashed with inbound passenger flights halted until May 31st and all borders closed.
It is now widely accepted that even if this reopening plan, which began on Sunday, is successful in returning the once-thriving tourist destination to a ‘new normal’, up to 10 million workers may still be left unemployed in a country which had less than 1% unemployment before the US-China trade war from 2018 and now, this catastrophe.
Some experts warn that without an effective vaccine, it may take 2 to 3 years to get back to normal
Besides, like other countries, Thailand simply cannot afford further extensive lockdowns despite the threat of multiple waves of the infection still predicted by some health experts.
In recent weeks, a respected health expert and former director of the World Health Organisation from 2015 to 2018, Dr Anthony Costello, warned that without a vaccine, the disease in the UK would take 2 to 3 years to play out with 50,000 deaths before that country reached a 52 to 60% infection rate or herd immunity began to kick in.
On Tuesday, the death rate in the United Kingdom crept above 32,000, the highest level of mortality from the virus now in Europe.
At the outset of this crisis, the government of Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom proposed and begin to follow a herd immunity strategy before altering course because of massive and understandable public and media outcry to the prospect of so many lives being lost.
Thailand’s infection numbers and death rate, however, are intriguingly low despite being the first country outside China to report a case
However, many observers are intrigued by the low level of infection in the kingdom despite being the first country to record a case of the coronavirus in January of this year outside China.
The kingdom has less than 3,000 infections and only 54 deaths from the disease to date.
It currently ranks 62nd in the world by the number of infections and 70th by the number of deaths from 214 countries.
By comparison, Sweden which has had no lockdown is ranked as 14th by its number of deaths and 22nd by the number of infections despite having a population which approximates to 14% of that in Thailand.
One contributory factor speculated on in recent weeks may be the high-level of sunshine in Thailand as US scientists have revealed in the last week that the virus cannot survive in direct sunlight.
Some credit has also to be given to Thai government policies and actions since January which created awareness and encouraged the wearing of face masks.
Another factor may be a less dangerous virus strain.
This suggestion was bolstered by US scientists with the Los Alamos National Laboratory on Tuesday when they revealed a significant mutation of the virus, among 14, which has become dominant in Europe and the USA.
It has become significantly more infectious and capable of infecting human cells.
The mutant is called G614 and has a more effective protein spike dubbed by researchers at the US institute as D614G.
US scientists now want to ensure that any new vaccine can tackle this more dangerous strain of the virus.
French confirm first coronavirus case in December
Doctors in France this week revealed that a French Algerian national has been confirmed as suffering from the virus on December 27th last when he was treated at a French hospital for acute chest pains and breathing difficulties.
On Tuesday, Sweden’s State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was reported by Reuters as suggesting his country probably had cases brought by travellers from Wuhan in China as early as November.
This would have clear implications for Thailand which had direct flights from the city at the centre of the pandemic which is also a Chinese travel hub for tourists to the kingdom.
Swedish health expert Anders Tegnell says his country may well have had infections last November
‘I think that you could find individual cases among Wuhan travellers who were there in November to December last year. That doesn’t sound at all strange, but rather very natural,’ Mr Tegnell said.
The Swede is the architect of that country’s controversial response to the disease which has meant no lockdown and a policy of clear guidance to its citizens.
Swedish leaders, nonetheless, deny categorically that their policy is based on herd immunity but they readily accept that it may well be helped by it.
Tegnell told the media, however, that he is reluctant to order an investigation into such matters as is now being carried out in France.
‘At the moment it feels like we don’t want to burden the healthcare sector with this type of investigation. They have a lot of other things to do, and this would not lead to any measure.’
Thailand’s 4 stage reopening process has begun
The relaxation on Sunday in Thailand is part of a 4 step plan which is by no means guaranteed success as the government’s medical panel and responsible officials monitor the infection rate in the country following this first phase of reopening.
Similar moves in western countries, in the last few weeks or so, have seen a noticeable rise in the R0 infection rate.
In both France and Germany, this figure has risen from 0.6 and 0.7 up to 1 at this stage, giving authorities cause for concern.
Fears after a rush to buy alcohol on Sunday
Meanwhile, there has also been concern expressed over large crowds seen buying alcohol when the ban was removed on Sunday in most parts of Thailand.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, expressed his own concern about such scenes on Tuesday and warned that lockdown measures could be reimposed if deemed necessary.
He particularly referenced scenes of large numbers of enthusiastic customers buying alcohol by the box load apparently at department stores and wholesale outlets on Sunday.
Deputy PM urged to publicly exercise caution and warns businesses they face immediate closure
Deputy PM Wissanu urged the public to exercise more caution and to be more circumspect about their actions at this stage.
‘Responsible organisations are evaluating the situation. If the outbreak starts again, all shopping malls and other venues must be closed,’ he warned.
He also specifically warned business owners that they had a legal responsibility to ensure compliance with the ‘new normal’ regulations. He said authorities would act decisively against those who breached the strict requirements.
‘If any place cannot follow the Public Health Ministry’s measures, the government will shut it down immediately.’
Most business concerns are assiduously compliant
The new style of business on Thailand’s high streets in the last few days has been an eye-opener.
Despite the fears over non-compliance with social distancing requirements, most businesses are complying assiduously.
We have seen restaurants with plastic dividers and tape marking indicating where users can sit or stand.
One busy hairdressing salon featured by news agency Reuters this Tuesday in a news report from Bangkok appeared more like a hospital ER department than a place to have your hair cut.
Bangkok hair salon appears like an ER ward
Zahara Salon in Thailand’s capital city had handed all staff gowns, plastic goggles, a face mask and a face shield to wear as they tended to the establishment’s customers.
For 34-year-old stylist Ponpimon Meantaggi, it was a bit surreal but she was delighted to be back at work and earning an income.
‘It’s so nice being back at work, but now we feel as though we are doctors with what we have to wear,’ she said.
Only 4% of business concerns not in compliance
While the government’s medical team is monitoring for signs of an advance of the infection with raised activity levels, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration or CCSA has also been monitoring compliance with the new orders to business.
Top spokesperson, Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, revealed that over 9,300 businesses have been reviewed and it appeared that 96% were following the government’s guidelines.
Of the 4% who were discovered to be not complying or 351 concerns, many were restaurants which had a higher 6.1% non-compliance rate and accounted for nearly 61% of those found to be outside the scope of the regulations.
The government also reviewed department stores, markets, retail outlets and salons. They found a non-compliance rate of 1.5% for the retail sector and 3.1% for hair salons.
Royal Thai Police and officials are monitoring business concerns throughout the kingdom
The Royal Thai Police have also been called in to supervise business concerns and outlets throughout the country to hold back the virus.
Police Colonel Krishna Pattanacharoen, deputy spokesperson for the Royal Thai Police said that while more than 350 business concerns were found to be in non-compliance, a further 2,600 or nearly 28% have been given warnings and advice by officials on how to comply with the government regulations.
The senior police officer pointed out that all premises must check the temperature of all customers in addition to hygiene and social distancing measures to be taken within the premises.
He echoed Deputy PM Wissanu when he warned that local officials have the power to close such establishments immediately if required.