The shocking poll number comes as one of Thailand’s leading health practitioners, Dr Prasit Watanapa of Siriraj University, has called for the government to tighten border protection efforts against illegal migrants. The respected medical expert has also reaffirmed his belief, first aired at the beginning of the emergency, that the virus will peter out towards the end of the year in November or December.
A reputable opinion poll published in Sunday shows that members of the Thai public are more anxious about the threat from the Covid 19 virus than their counterparts in the UK where over 45,000 people have died compared to 58 in the kingdom so far and where a case of localised transmission has not been detected in over 50 days. The poll suggested that nearly 74% of Thai people believe a second lockdown is probable with nearly 95% of people calling for foreigners to be denied entry at the kingdom’s borders. While many foreigners lament this situation and blame the Thai establishment, there is another factor, however, the powerful Thai media machine.
The highly damaging incident in Rayong last weekend from the point of view of Thai public opinion, involving an Egyptian military aircraft and junket by personnel to Thailand in which a soldier was found to be infected has left a searingly negative impression.
The public, particularly in Rayong and Eastern Thailand, were notably angered over what happened which drew an apology from Thai authorities including the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, who visited the province on Wednesday but also pointed to the media for overhyping fears.
Prayuth makes his point to the media on generating fear over the virus – ‘Can you tone it down’?
‘Where did this panic come from?’ the PM asked the media posse. ‘What caused people across the country to be so perplexed that they don’t want to come out?’
‘Tell me,’ the PM demanded as he bored into the reporters with what has become his trademark style.
‘The media?’ ventured one of the representatives of Thailand’s fourth estate. He asked the media to tone their reporting of the incident down and instead highlight the extended testing in the produced which had produced no positive results.
‘Can you tone it down?’ the Prime Minister said. ‘If you still give more fuel to it, then it will be permanently like this. You asked me to help, but who should I help? They can’t do business because they’re panicked, right? Have we found anyone infected? You should tell people about that.’
This weekend, the damage was clear. A Suan Dusit poll conducted by Rajabhat University recorded a resoundingly negative attitude towards foreigners visiting Thailand.
85% of Thai people agree with stricter screening and quarantine measures says opinion poll
In response to a question about fears of a second wave of infection, when asked by the poll what measures should be taken to prevent such an occurrence, nearly 95% of respondents suggested that foreigners should be barred from entering Thailand.
This was followed by 85% of those surveyed who agreed that there should be strong screening and quarantine measures for people returning from abroad while 83% supported the compulsory wearing of face masks out of doors.
The sample size of the survey was over 1,450 respondents and it was carried out from Tuesday, July 14th to Saturday, the 18th of July.
Anti foreigner sentiment has risen sharply
There have been fears, for some time, since the outset of this pandemic that anti-foreigner sentiment in Thailand has been on the rise particularly against western foreigners as a result of a number controversial remarks made in February and March this year by Thailand’s Minister for Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, who on two occasions appeared to blame western foreigners for their habits and the spread of the infection.
However, given the real threat that exists from the Covid 19 virus and warnings from respected medical experts in Thailand as to the danger, the mood of the public is easy to understand.
Massive economic price still to be paid
Thailand has already paid economically and stands to give up more to protect the kingdom from the disease.
Thailand’s economy stands to lose between at least ฿1.47 trillion this year in lost tourism earnings according to UN figures with some economic analysts putting the figure at ฿2 trillion.
Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, the President of the Tourism Council of Thailand, has said that the true impact of the crisis on the economy has yet to be felt.
He has predicted that one-third of tourism-related business in Thailand will shutter in the second half of this year.
‘The impact of Covid-19 will become most serious in the third quarter of this year after many operators have already tried to cut costs by letting some of their employees go, but after more than a million positions were cut, the situation still hasn’t improved, as no foreign tourists are allowed into the country yet,’ he said in recent days.
Over 1,600 tests in Rayong failed to find a positive sample but expert warns of complacency
Over the weekend, it was revealed that out of 1,600 tests in Rayong over the last few days, there was not one case of infection clearly indicating that Thailand’s performance at warding off Covid 19 is not the result of manipulation but a strong government performance, at least on this front, based on a health system with a proven track record at fighting epidemics.
Nonetheless, Dr Prasit Watanapa, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Thailand’s prestigious Siriraj Hospital, warned over the weekend that the fact that an incidence of local transmission has not been detected in Thailand for over 50 days, does not mean Covid 19 may not still be in the country.
He also warned about the increased virulence of the disease outside Thailand’s borders as many western countries fight off a threatened second wave of infection
Government should focus on the danger of illegal migrants and tighter screening and quarantine rules
Dr Prasit urged the Thai government to focus on the threat posed by people entering the country illegally and warned that the incident last weekend including the case of the Egyptian soldier and an infection reported in Bangkok where the 9-year-old daughter of a Sudanese diplomat tested positive, indicated the need for the government to tighten its rules on screening, quarantine and entry into Thailand across the board.
There has already been progress on this, this week, with the cancellation of all privileges for state guests and diplomats.
However, the case of a European Union diplomat on Thursday who was only stopped by a vigilant condominium complex manager shows that the deference shown in Thailand to elite visitors, whether they are arriving in private jets or working in the higher echelons of corporate or civil society, could be a dangerous weakness.
Expert says virus may peter out from November
Dr Prasit, the medical expert, whose pronouncements thus far have been prescient, said that he maintains his view, first expressed in March, that this virus will only begin to peter out some time in November or December and that Thailand’s government, hard-hit business sector and workforce will just simply have to stay the course for now.
Dr Prasit was among the leading proponents in March of barring all incoming flights from outside Thailand.
The alternative, according to Dr Prasit, is to relax the country’s guard which would mean that it would become inevitable that the infection would again strike within the kingdom.
He conceded that this would then mean localised lockdowns rather than countrywide enforcement.
Only 1.5% of people in Thailand are not worried about the virus – 98.5% are worried to some degree according to this latest poll
The Suan Dusit Poll showed that nearly 53 % of people were very worried about the virus threat last week while a further 39.7% were fairly worried and 6.6% indicated that they were slightly worried.
Only 1.5% of people in Thailand were not worried at all about the virus threat.
An extraordinary number, 74%, see another lockdown occurring in the future for Thailand
Remarkably, 74% of those interviewed believed that a second lockdown would occur while roughly 25% thought it was unlikely.
These figures suggest an unusually high level of anxiety given the relatively successful handling of the crisis by the Thai government which has avoided the catastrophic experience seen in western countries.
Public attitude in marked contrast to surveys in the UK where over 45,000 people have died and over 100 are still losing their lives daily from Covid 19
Only 58 people in Thailand have died from the Covid 19 virus.
Over 142,000 people have died in the United States which is currently recording new deaths at a rate of 800 to 900 per day.
In the UK, the figure for deaths is over 45,000 with over 100 deaths a day still being recorded.
Yet, in the UK, despite a high level of opposition to the easing of lockdown measures at 38% according to a latest YouGov poll, over 55% support efforts by the government to reopen the economy.
63% of the UK public, in June, in another YouGov poll, expressed support for the government there introducing mandatory self-quarantine measures on incoming tourists from red-lighted countries under the UK government’s traffic light control scheme.