So, how’s Thailand doing with Covid-19? – OPINION

OPINION by “Issan John”

According to some, Thailand’s a leading success story, with minimal deaths and an equally minimal effect on daily life. According to others, it’s fudging the figures and on the brink of economic collapse, and the only solution is to “open the borders”, take a risk with Covid-19, and welcome back the tourists it allegedly relies on for its survival.

Even within those opposing camps, there are those who think the successes are down to careful planning, and those who think instead that they’re more a matter of luck than judgement, as well as those who think the failures are inevitable, down to the unstoppable world-wide spread of Covid-19 and the resultant global recession, rather than down to incompetence and self-interest.

Unavoidably there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” and the Covid-19 figures can be read in many ways…

  • Thailand has had only 59 deaths reported from Covid-19, compared to over 43,000 in the UK and over 36,000 in Italy with similar sized populations
  • Thailand has only tested less than 1% of the population, as have most of ASEAN, while the West has tested as many as 25%.

Consequently, it’s often alleged that Thailand and others are “cheating” and fudging their figures to hide the deaths and the number of cases as they’re “too good to be true” and 80% of cases are asymptomatic, so the number of cases is likely to be far higher since testing isn’t as widespread as it is in the West.

The reality, though, is that if 80% of cases are asymptomatic then 20% have to be symptomatic, so they’d show up when temperatures are taken at Tesco, Big ‘C’, or 7-11 and tens or hundreds of thousands would be turned away and queueing at the hospitals, particularly given the alleged “paranoia” about Covid-19 here, and that simply hasn’t happened.

The West has gone for mass testing as their way ahead, while Thailand has effectively gone for targeted testing instead; both have advantages and disadvantages.

  • Thailand has a steady Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of below 2%, half the global average and on a par with New Zealand, while most of the West has a CFR of between 7 and 14%;

That suggests Thailand has better “care” for Covid-19 cases than the West, which seems unlikely. The estimated Infection Fatality Rate (IFR, rather than CFR), though, indicates that apart from comorbidities, from smoking to age to obesity, the IFR is likely to be closer to 0.35% globally (compared to 0.04% for “seasonal” flu, if unvaccinated), with little variation nationally apart from as a result of care / treatment, so that suggests that the infection rate is actually considerably higher than thought in the West while it’s genuinely low in Thailand

Thailand, like it or not, has clearly done genuinely well in terms of controlling the pandemic, not only minimising deaths, but minimising the effect on people’s lives in the country.

The effect of that success on the economy, though, is a different matter…

  • International tourism has undeniably collapsed in Thailand, affecting GDP which dropped by 12.2% in Q2.
  • Exports are down by over 6% in Q2
  • … but the Thai baht’s been steady against the US$, GB£ and Euro since before the Covid crisis.

Unfortunately international tourism can only be improved by opening the borders, which would inevitably mean the risks of Covid-19 increasing unless effective checks are made, and at the moment that has to mean quarantining and testing – the incubation period and the efficacy of current tests simply leaves no other option:

  • Quarantining and testing pre-flight is impossible to verify – the means just aren’t available.
  • Current tests are only 93 to 97% accurate, so between 20 and 40 passengers on each flight (5%) have false readings.That can’t be reduced to zero, but it can be reduced by a factor of 1,000 with 14 days quarantine and testing.

If tourism were to return to “normal”, pre-Covid, with 40 million visitors per year unchecked by 14 days quarantine and tests, that could mean 2 million cases of Covid-19 coming in to Thailand every year.

That doesn’t just mean that 7,000 of them would die here, or that many times that number of Thais would also die. The effect of that on Thailand’s economy and everyday life for Thais would go way beyond that, as Thailand would have to go the way of the West, closing schools and factories, and locking down bars and beaches and limiting travel as the West has done. There would be a short term gain, in return for a massive medium and long term loss. Not only would international tourism collapse, but so would so much else.

Those in, and reliant on. the tourism industry will suffer, inevitably, but that has to be balanced against the alternative as it is in Thailand’s tourism competitors, like Cambodia and Vietnam, and the long term winner will be the one who can hold their nerve and support their economy the most in the short term.

On the other hand, it’s far from all a success story.

There are reportedly some 120,000 “tourists” still stuck in Thailand, many of whom have nowhere else to go as it’s either not possible for them to return to their “home” countries or they’re “yachties” and other “travellers” whose “home” is wherever they are. Any moves to force them out while they’re here and spending would seem to be both short-sighted and counter-productive – particularly if the “option” is to replace those 120,000 already here with a planned 1,200 per month on Special Tourist Visas, and due to the “on-again/off-again” moves for those already here rather than clarity and forethought a lot of trust, confidence and goodwill has been sadly squandered.

The constant conflicting and contradicting “suggestions” from Ministers and departments, with the Anti-Fake News Centre and Thai Embassy saga just being one example of far too many, leading ot a similar lack of confidence (although it doesn’t compare with the antics of all too many Western MPs and ministers blatantly ignoring their own rules).

Thailand, in my view, has been one of the few national Covid-19 success stories ….. but whether that’s because of decisions taken or in spite of them is in the eye of the beholder.

“Issan John” (his spelling, not ours) is a regular, if not frequent, contributor to the comments section of The Thaiger’s website and was invited to submit his well-argued thoughts on Thailand’s progress through the Covid-19 mess. The opinions of Issan John do not necessarily reflect that of The Thaiger staff or management.

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