I am writing this post for anyone with friends or family in Thailand who is wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic is being handled here. It is written from the perspective of a US expat of many years who is still in touch regularly with family and acquaintances back in the US, and who is monitoring the situation there (and here) to the extent I can.
How is Thailand Fighting COVID-19
The main tool that Thailand is using to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which you will become immediately aware of if you set foot in the country, is control of movement (checkpoints and curfews) and temperature/health screening.
If you choose to leave your place of residence (and most people here are voluntarily choosing to do this as little as possible), you will have your temperature screened at any building you enter. While at the Holiday Inn Rayong, for instance, in March, whenever we went to the Big C (supermarket) next door we had to submit to two temperature screenings (one on the main floor of the mall in which the store resides – and in which all businesses were shuttered except the Big C supermarket and restaurant kitchens for takeaway/delivery only – and one upon entering the supermarket itself). Masks are also mandatory in all shared spaces and hand sanitizer is present (and using it customary) at every establishment’s entrance.
Inter-city and inter-provincial travel in Thailand has become severely restricted in the past month, with most cities and provinces prohibiting entry to all except provably essential travel (i.e.delivery of essential supplies or for legal matters). When you do cross city or provincial borders, you are submitted to a temperature screening (either with a thermometer or via infrared camera) and in many cases also have your vehicle sprayed down with a sanitizing agent.
International travel restrictions
Inbound travel from foreign countries to Thailand has been severely restricted, and for certain fixed periods has been entirely banned. In the periods where travel to Thailand has not been banned, immigration has required all foreigners entering the country to provide a health certificate (obtained before arrival) and proof of US $100,000 insurance for COVID-19 treatment. At the moment of this article’s publication, inbound international travel is banned.
Are the measures working?
In short, it would seem that these measures are working. The rate of daily new cases has dramatically fallen from its peak of 188 on March 22nd. As of the date of publication of this article, the number of daily cases is approximately 1/125th, adjusted for population size, of the case count in the US, the country that is presently hardest hit by the pandemic.
Where am I?
In January, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, I had plans to travel within Asia. Since the crisis and the measures put in place limiting travel, my desire and ability to do so has been put on ice until things resolve. I have been weathering the crisis on Koh Chang, a small island about a 4 hours’ drive and a ferry ride from Bangkok. So far there have been no cases on Koh Chang, and extensive measures (both at the ports of entry and on roads linking different sections of the island) are in place to screen for the virus. Myself and my girlfriend were also subject to a 14 day quarantine on arrival. We feel lucky to be weathering this situation here, where at least we have the ocean to look at and give some semblance of normalcy while we sit at home. We’re trying to use the free time to at least invest in projects and personal pursuits as much as possible.
How’s my outlook
I am not an expert in any area that could help me evaluate the prospects for Thailand and the world in this pandemic with any authority. For that reason, all I can say is that I am trying to stay hopeful, for all of us here and for all of my friends and family abroad. I subscribe to the aphorism that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I do think that many of us didn’t know how good things were – our health, freedom, etc. until this virus came along. At the very least I hope that, when we emerge from the other side of this, that maybe it will help us appreciate and recognize when times are good.