The Chinese Virus in Thailand

Our Bangkok correspondent H. Numan sends this report on the impact that the Wuhan Coronavirus is having in Thailand.

The Chinese virus in Thailand

by H. Numan

Let’s call the beast by its real name, shall we? Incidentally, this is the second time China has infected the rest of the world. Without taking any responsibility for it. In 2002 we had the SARS virus going viral. In both cases it began in a fresh market. In both cases the Chinese government tried to look the other way for as long as possible. With the Coronavirus especially China does everything it can — that’s a lot! — to disassociate itself. Anyone (especially a man in a white house) who calls this virus by its true name is a racist. The measures China is taking are exactly what you can expect from a ruthless communist regime. Not to be admired, to say the least.

One of the first countries to enjoy the new Chinese export was Thailand. That was to be expected, with hindsight of course. About a third of the tourism industry relied (past tense!) on the Chinese market. That’s about twelve million arrivals. Once the virus really took hold the tourism industry effectively died. The one third of the market was forbidden to travel abroad. The remaining two thirds seriously reduced or changed travel plans. That means almost no arrivals at the airport. Empty hotels. Empty tourist attractions. Huge fleets of coaches standing idle. Tour leaders without work. We’re talking here about the livelihood of many millions of people.

Elephants are highly revered in Thailand, and no longer used for hard labor. Quite a lot of elephants are now kept in retirement camps, where they are taken care of and work with tourists. Usually by washing, feeding and interacting with the elephants. To a lesser extent rides on them. Only there are no tourists. An occasional Thai and a few farangs (=foreigners), but not enough to make ends meet. Elephants eat a lot. About 10% of their body weight daily. That’s roughly 360 kg of fodder every day, seven days per week. Many of those camps are in dire straits on how to keep the elephants alive. I have no idea what will happen. Will they be released into the wild? (That’s a horrible thought.) Will the government offer support? No idea.

Thailand is doing what it can to contain the virus. I happen to live in the center of Bangkok, in the diplomatic area (lucky me!). Central Chidlom is the most prestigious mall of Thailand. The guards at the door check everybody now for temperature. The bank next door also has a guard who sprays the doorknob every time a customer enters the bank. If you use the ATM, he cleans it. When I went to the immigration police, same story: everybody’s temperature was taken. From what I hear, roughly the same is done in the whole country.

Last week we had a bit of a stir when the minister of health, Khun Anutin Charnvirakul, tweeted that filthy western foreigners were the cause of the virus, as they never showered. It was because of them the ‘good Chinese tourists’ were now staying away. He had to apologize, which he sort of did. He hadn’t posted this on Twitter, but rather somebody else had. He was too busy to manage his Twitter account. In a Western government he would have had to pack his things immediately. All Western embassies did file complaints about his statement. But this is Thailand. Thus, his apology was accepted.

The country is in a nearly complete lockdown. Within the country you still can travel. There is no curfew. Yet. In many cities entertainment has been closed down completely. Some of it voluntary, some of it on orders of the local government. All borders are closed. New arrivals must show a health certificate not older than 3 days, and have valid health insurance covering at least $ 100,000. All large-scale activities have been postponed or canceled.

In a couple of weeks we’ll be celebrating Songkran or Thai New Year. All large scale Songkran activities have been canceled completely. Perhaps a blessing in disguise: The Songkran festival lasts a whole week. The death toll on the roads — Thailand is the second most dangerous country after Libya — is horrendous. Last year 386 people died during the “seven dangerous days”. Maybe this year it will be fewer… one can dream, can’t he?

The government is probably going to be lenient on people with expiring visas. Normally, the immigration police are draconian. One day overstay is allowed. For every other day, it’s Bt. 500 per day. That really adds up after a month. Not only that, but you will be blacklisted as well. If the overstay is under 90 days, you are not allowed entry into the kingdom for a year. If your overstay exceeds that, it’s 10 years. The minister for tourism is now talking with immigration to see what can be done for tourists who are stuck here. Many countries have closed their own borders, or the situation there is far worse than in Thailand. That’s not the fault of the tourist. So far, immigration is not forcing the issue. That’s good news for tourists who are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Thailand gets a lot of praise for how they are managing the crisis. The army and city workers clean up the streets. The 1st Guards division was charged with cleaning the area surrounding the Grand Palace. I’m not too worried about the Grand Palace. I find it open-air fresh markets far more dangerous. Those places are breeding grounds for rodents, bacteria and viruses. No idea how that’s being handled. I rarely go there.

What is worrisome is the effect on the global economy this crisis is going to have. Something you don’t hear enough about. Almost all airlines worldwide stopped flying or are on severely reduced (< 20%) schedules. That’s going to have a massive effect on anyone’s economy, no matter where you live. The airline industry works on razor-thin margins anyway. Many companies were already struggling. You can rest assured some, or more likely a lot of them, will soon have to file for bankruptcy. No airlines flying means hotels without customers. Lockdowns in many countries mean restaurants without business.

That will have a huge impact on anyone. I, for example, build websites with a reservation system for hotels. For the moment I can forget about getting any customers. Hotels without guests simply aren’t interested. And so on and so on. Even if by some miracle a cure can be found today, we’re still going to have a crisis rivaling the Great Depression. Please remember the pandemic Spanish flu lasted for two years. Times are different, but a vaccine has yet to be found. Once found, it has to be tested. All that takes time. We can only hope common sense prevails, and clowns like Frans Timmermans, the EU climate-czar, has to hand in his trillion-euro budget. We have bigger worries right now. However, common sense and the EU. Those are diametric opposites.

Apart from the corona (or Chinese) virus, we have lots of problems already. Erdogan tried to force Europe to accept his refugees. Or more accurately, he used them as storm troops to invade Greece. It didn’t succeed this time. Knowing Erdogan, he’ll try again. England left the EU. Other nations will have to cough up the missing income. Our progressive f(r)iends are bit quiet at the moment. Even diehard progressives can’t stomach their whining about being oppressed. We’ve got bigger worries on our plate right now. Doesn’t mean to say they have learned their lesson. They are waiting for a chance to strike again. Likewise, terror attacks continue. ISIS and Hamas don’t stay safely at home.

— H. Numan

16 thoughts on “The Chinese Virus in Thailand

  1. i have been to thailand many times and spent time with hill tribes and travelled by boat,train,bus…tuk tuk…..all over south east asia. those days are over. the reset button has been pressed, p.s…..not all of it was fun.As you well know southern thailand is not predominantly bhudist!

  2. “this is the second time China has infected the rest of the world. Without taking any responsibility for it. In 2002 we had the SARS virus going viral.”

    Um, maybe the third time??
    It seems the likely source for the Spanish Flu too:~

    I wondered why and then remembered my visit to China 30 years ago where I watched the locals chuck sucked bones from their meals into the centre of restaurant tables as people walked by spitting on the footpath and others dangled their toddlers over the gutter to go to the toilet.

    At the time I tried to adapt to a “different culture” and tried not to feel my standards were superior. But really – this is just insanely unsanitary. Perhaps it’s not really a mystery why diseases might spread better in China.

    Oh dear, now I suppose I’m a vile racist…

    • More like fourth time. The bubonic plague a.k.a. Black Death also originated from China via the silk road.

    • Probably the fourth time since the bubonic plague a.k.a. Black death came from China

    • Britain’s Foot and Mouth epidemic in livestock, which necessitated vast destruction of herds, was traced to Chinese illegally bringing infected meat from China.

      Was not H5N1 ‘flu from China?

      • This sounds odd; Foot and Mouth may have been caused by feeding herbivorous livestock animal matter, but how would meat from China get into that food chain, when it was (presumably) imported for human consumption? A link to your evidence would be helpful.

        • Mark, You are thinking of the brain rotting disease whose name escapes me at them moment, which came from animal feed. Foot and mouth was from China.

    • Interesting comment, Graeme. It reminds me of the first time I arrived in Beijing. I’d just left the Trans-Siberian Railway and descended into the area in front of the station.. This is an excerpt from the notes I made at the time:-

      “There were neon signs everywhere but they were all in Chinese characters and meant nothing to me. All the backpackers had long since left and crowds of Chinese, either standing around or sitting in groups had spread themselves over this vast area and were staring at me with detached curiosity. I felt like I’d strayed into the plot of a John Wyndham novel. Every so often, one of them would hawk up a great globule of something green and disgusting and then carry on smoking whatever it was he or she had been smoking. They must have been doing a lot of that because every so often, I would slide precariously on something slippery and once I nearly ended up on my backside.”

  3. Thank you for this. I found it very helpful as I haven’t been out much for the last two weeks and have been self isolating. My wife drives to the local supermarket once a week or so (we have four cats to feed) and to several temples to make merit but apart from that, none of us goes out much any more. My wife’s two nieces are on holiday here with us from Chiang Mai University and the local primary school respectively and our house guest, a Thai lady in her 30s only goes to the temple.

    I am very concerned at the plight of the elephants. Every so often we go to the elephant camps at Mae Sa and Mai Teng and we would be distressed if any harm were to come to these majestic beasts.

    Throughout all the economic woes, the Thai Baht is being held at an artificially high level so that exchange rates, particularly with the Pound Sterling went through the floor several years ago and continue to fall. I have lost about 30% of my disposable income over this period.

    However, I will not be returning to the UK, or any other country in Europe. Thailand is my home now and, for better or worse, I cannot envisage living anywhere else.

  4. I can see two possibilities.

    1) Somehow, the irresponsible governments like China are isolated, and contagious diseases like the China virus are controlled through local and limited responses. Trump said if China had been open about the outbreak of a virulent disease, it would have been possible to contain it with much less dramatic measures.

    2) Populations are becoming increasingly susceptible due to the collapse of Darwinian selection, and eventually a disease sneaky and contagious enough to bypass all obvious epidemic control measures will appear. This means the only way to actually control such a plague is to allow natural die-outs of those genetically susceptible, thus boosting the natural immunity of the remaining population.

    There is much wrong with my dichotomy. But, it makes me think that our institutions and scientists are not planning strategically. Murphy’s Law says that whatever can go wrong will eventually go wrong. The Chinese government puts Murphy’s Law on steroids, but even a responsible Chinese government would not eliminate the fact that humanity is one mutation away from a devastating plague killing hundreds of millions of people.

  5. I have been to Thailand twice, and it is my favorite foreign country. I will pray for its people, and that it recover economically. Please keep your updates coming!

  6. Thank you, Mr Numan, for a most interesting and informative report. I look forward to reading the next one.

Comments are closed.