By Samui Bodoh
– the screen name of the Author on ThaiVisa.com
I think it is time for Thailand to re-evaluate its Virus Response policy.
Thailand has been following a ‘Zero-Tolerance’ policy, but I think it is time to move to a ‘Managed-Tolerance’ policy. I make this suggestion based mainly on two factors; I think it is inevitable that the virus will return to Thailand and a calm, managed response is more effective than hysteria. Secondly, the economic damage being done to millions is more harmful than the virus itself and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
We recently saw new cases in Vietnam, and I think that we are going to see new cases in Thailand soon; like most people I take the government’s claim of zero cases with a grain of salt, although it seems like they have done a very good job overall. However, I don’t think it can last. A better policy is to prepare, both medically and in terms of public opinion/education, for the return of the virus. Is this a radical idea? No, not really. You will recall the phrase “flatten the curve”, but perhaps a reminder is needed that the idea is to manage the virus so that the health system isn’t overwhelmed; a policy of Zero Tolerance is incompatible with an open society and/or open economy. It is time to re-enforce the precautions needed, but also to allow for an economic re-start which includes outsiders/foreigners. A final point; humanity’s best minds and a boat-load of resources are being thrown at the problem. This global effort, propelled by the power of competition, is expected to produce a vaccine either this year or early next year while treatments are being developed and refined daily; we as a species are going to beat this scourge, and relatively soon.
The economic damage being done to Thailand is immense. Yes, I know that we don’t hear about it too much, but there is a reason for that. The people talking in the (not quite free) Media are almost all in a ‘Virus-Proof’ economic situation; they aren’t directly affected so they don’t feel the urgency of fixing the problem. Firm numbers are difficult to come by, but it seems around 6-9 million Thais are very badly hurt by the economic fall-out of the virus, and those people need to be both helped and heard. The damage done to these people is egregious and growing worse; some government support is being withdrawn, the option of ‘Go Back to the Farm’ isn’t really possible anymore (and not a great idea regardless), and they will soon need more food and rent support to survive. Further, many aren’t well-educated and don’t have transferable skills, so their options are limited. Finally, even before Covid-19, their economic situation was in decline; it is in free-fall now and they can’t be ignored. Simply put, plans for their economic regeneration must to be formulated now and implemented soon.
When people are hungry, all bets are off.
How to proceed?
It is the beginning of August; continue/speed up the current repatriation policy ‘as is’, but ramp up the public education aspect of change. Announce that by October 1st (perhaps Nov. 1st?) that the airspace around Thailand will be open to commercial air travel, long-term tourists (Snow-Birds who ‘winter’ here), remaining residents and retirees will be allowed to return with a few restrictions (test before boarding or on arrival, reasonable insurance, self-isolation at home on arrival, etc. BUT no mandatory state quarantine), implement common sense visa issuance (sorry Floridians and Texans!) and most of all prepare the Thai people for the idea that although there will be cases of the virus, they will be managed, and the benefits of re-opening are a risk worth taking. Yes, the end of mandatory state quarantine is essential if this is going to work; I believe that the long-term visitors will respect the self-isolation policy and Thailand’s million strong public health volunteers can monitor them, but they won’t come if they are going to be locked up. Moreover, the selection of the residents/retirees and ‘Snow-Birds’ as an initial group isn’t accidental; these people already know the Kingdom and understand life within it, are good ‘testers’ of a new system, have a lot of money to spend, and can be excellent examples of a working policy of re-opening. Finally, allowing these kinds of visitors would build confidence, test whether short-term tourists could actually visit (I think not yet, but…), and help protect the tourism infrastructure from further and/or irreparable damage.
There are those who will argue that it is better to keep the borders closed and wait this out, and I honestly have trouble arguing against that idea (I don’t want to catch the <deleted> thing). However, those who make that point rarely take the next step; what do you do with the 6-9 million people damaged by the current policy? Will those that advocate for closed borders take in homeless people? If so, how many? One family? Two families? Three? Will those that advocate for closed borders give up a percentage of their salaries/pensions to help? If so, how much? 25%? 35%? 45%? Will those that advocate for closed borders pay school fees and related costs for all the children of unemployed/underemployed parents? How many kids? One? Five? Twenty? The question isn’t merely an intellectual exercise, it has real-world implications and consequences.
If you want those 6-9 million people to sacrifice for you, what are you going to sacrifice for them?
To sum up, I think that the question of whether or not to keep the border closed is incomplete. The question should be: if you keep the border closed, then what will you do for the 6-9 million people economically-eviscerated by the response to the virus? Opening the Kingdom to visitors in November for the high season would likely see a few cases of the virus, but the Thai medical system can handle that (it did before, right?) until a vaccine is widely available. It would begin the process of re-starting the tourism industry in Thailand (20% of GDP!!!), begin the process of building trust again, re-start the employment of huge numbers, give Thailand a ‘leg up’ on future tourism business in the region, and alleviate some of the damage done to the poorest in the Kingdom. The alternative is a policy of rot, idleness, atrophy and decline with an indefinite timeline.
History is replete with examples of people hiding behind walls for protection, but it rarely ever works (especially against something the size of a virus); see the ‘Maginot Line’, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, and more. History shows that a combination of pro-active tactics coupled with reasonable, layered defenses provides a better outcome to almost any problem.
The question is; is anyone listening? Or are public officials just spewing nonsense to get their name in the paper?
I’ve given you an outline on what and how to do it; can you take it from here?
“The economic damage being done to millions is more harmful than the virus itself.”