Coronavirus Causes Panic and Anger in Thailand
Public anger is increasing against Thailand’s military-backed government for its handling of Wuhan’s deadly coronavirus, because Bangkok’s toll is among the biggest number of infected people outside China.
“The country is now in the stage of disease transmission,” said Disease Control Department director-general Dr. Tanarak Plipat in a warning for tourists and others.
“Since they are staying in places full of foreign visitors, tourists are likely to be in areas of disease transmission.”
As for “the degree of risk concerning the disease in Thailand, chancesof contraction remain low in this country,” Dr. Tanarak said.
Twenty-five people in Bangkok had confirmed virus infections as of February 6, the Health Ministry said.
Twenty-one of them, including a Thai woman, arrived in Bangkok from Wuhan, the city in China believed to be the source of the outbreak of the mysterious disease.
No coronavirus deaths were reported in Thailand, and some quarantined victims recovered and were released.
A Thai couple reportedly contracted infections in Japan before coming home to Thailand.
Two Thai taxi drivers were quarantined after transporting infected Chinese tourists to hospitals in Bangkok. They became the first confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus in Thailand.
One driver, age 50, recovered and was released.
“I don’t have any bad feelings towards the [Chinese] tourists after being infected with the disease,” the unnamed driver told reporters.
“I want to give my support to the people of Wuhan to keep fighting against the disease. I am sure that they can overcome it, like I have now.”
An additional 380 people with possible symptoms awaited tests, Health Ministry doctors said.
“I am very worried,” Paul Risley, an American consultant to the United Nations who has lived in Bangkok for nearly 15 years, said in an interview.
“My children are 9 and 6,” he said. “They attend an international school with perhaps 10% Chinese national students. Starting last week, the school has instituted temperature takings of all students in the
morning, requested some students to go to a hospital for a medical note, and gave a questionnaire to parents asking if they had been in mainland China recently and where.
“This is a big learning experience, especially for my 6-year-old, about the importance of washing hands all day long. He and his best friend call it the ‘Verona Virus.’ And today his friend was home, sick
with just a cold. His friend’s mother and I laugh, nervously, and hope this is only a cold,” Mr. Risley said.
The world’s biggest Chinatown is in Bangkok. The 200-year-old neighborhood was packed last week with Chinese, local Thais, foreign nationals and international tourists visiting outdoor restaurants, food markets, temples and shops.
At the Grand Palace on January 30, staff used hand-held digital thermometers to scan the foreheads of more than a dozen white-uniformed royal guards outdoors, before they ceremoniously escorted Princess Sirindhorn to a palace entrance.
Inside the entranceway about 200 guests, including foreign ambassadors and international medical officials, were scanned by a tripod-mounted thermometer before attending a banquet with the princess.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was invited to the banquet but did not attend because he suffered a slight fever and took the day off.
“I’m taking sick leave today because of a little cold as per doctor’s orders,” Mr. Prayuth said on Twitter on January 30.
A recently created, trending Twitter hashtag #PrayforPrayuth quickly filled up with tens of thousands of tweets about the ill prime minister mixing support, harsh satire, and graphic death wishes.
Mr. Prayuth returned to work the next day saying he was fine.
The Twitter hashtag #crapgovernment also trended during the weekend, with thousands of people tweeting complaints about the Thai government’s uncoordinated response to the outbreak, mixed among
unrelated posts about other countries’ governments.
“My company is checking customers’ body temperature and handing out surgical face masks at the pier,” a Phang Nga Island tourism official said.
Phang Nga Island is one of Thailand’s most popular destinations for international backpackers who binge on drugs and drinks during “Full Moon parties” on its tropical Andaman Sea beaches.
Face masks and hand sanitizer products are now difficult to find because most shops were having problems getting resupplied.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said 138 Thais who had been trapped in Wuhan’s urban lockdown were flown to Bangkok on February 4 and quarantined.
Initial reports from Wuhan indicated that the coronavirus may have been transmitted through snake meat to humans in a “wet market,” which sells edible live animals and carcasses, including wildlife.
Bangkok and other Thai cities have similar roofed, open-air markets. Fish is often laid on blocks of ice near caged poultry, while butchers chop meat amid gutters and cement floors wet with blood and slivers of
discarded animal flesh and fat.
Unlike China, creatures such as bats, snakes and dogs are not usually available to eat in Thailand.
“Airports, mass public transport services, shopping malls and hotels, as well as public areas, are stepping up hygiene measures, including extra cleaning and disinfection,” the Thai government announced.
“Apart from five international airports, the screening of all passengers arriving from risk areas has also been carried out at border areas and various ports in Thailand.”
At least 20,000 travelers from Wuhan flew directly to Thailand in January, according to Flight Master, a travel site in China. Most have reportedly returned to China.
Last year, nearly 11 million people traveled from China to Thailand —the most visitors from any nation.
Tourism produces about 22% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and employs six million people, the World Travel and Tourism Council reported.
Prime Minister Prayuth, who is also defense minister, ordered the army, navy and air force to send mobile medical units to Thailand’s international airports, including two in Bangkok. They will assist screening incoming passengers from China.
A pier near Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River, which flows through the capital, has been turned into a medical checkpoint to screen crews arriving on ships from China via the Gulf of Thailand.
“Tourism business operators have been instructed to monitor for symptoms shown by their customers. If any traveler has symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, or runny nose, after arriving from a risk area,
tourism business operators will seek medical care at the hospital immediately and inform the doctor regarding the person’s history of recent travel to China, or other risk areas,” the government said.
Bangkok boasts high-quality medical services and hospitals that attract patients from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Mr. Prayuth and Health Minister Anutin have faced criticism for their lack of experience dealing with international medical emergencies, even while expressing public assurances that everything is under
“Our country can control the situation well. We have had patients who are being treated and are improving. Many have also gone home,” Mr. Anutin told reporters.
“Detecting infected patients is a good sign because it shows that our system is efficient,” he said.
“Attention Gen. Prayuth, please close #Thailand from Chinese tourists now, better late than never,” Sean Boonpracong wrote on his Twitter site on January 24.
Mr. Boonpracong is an outspoken political analyst and was a National Security Council official in a civilian government which Mr. Prayuth ousted in a 2014 coup.