For the last four years, writing this column has been a weekly ritual invariably accomplished on a Thursday or a Friday by which time most of the news is usually in. If anything dramatic happens thereafter I might add a comment or two to update the reader.
Not so this week.
Here I sit at Rooster Central in front of a keyboard wondering where to start, wondering how to make sense of a week that has been one breaking news story after another, twists followed by turns, flips followed by flops. It is getting late on Saturday afternoon as I pen this with the desire to be as up to date as possible. Even then I expect to be wide of the mark come Sunday!
It has been hard to keep track of all the coronavirus/Covid-19 developments. It’s been a stark reminder that Thailand, though not as central to the world dilemma as many states, is a big player and everyone here or who has a strong connection with the country is waiting for the latest developments.
Waiting in the manner of holding our collective breath; the metaphor is not intended to be a cheap pun on not spreading the virus though it serves as a pithy headline. It’s more an expression of deep foreboding as to what may be in store for us in Thailand and around the world. For while many of us still despair at some of the panic reaction to the crisis there is now no doubt about its devastating effect on a huge percentage of the world and a great number of our daily activities.
Criticism of the Thai government’s reaction to the crisis is now starting to peak with both the foreign community and the Thais questioning Prayut’s hapless band of incompetents. Opponents across the political divide are taking aim and even friends are muttering under their masks. Uncle Too doesn’t just need reinforced khaki underpants to weather this one – he’s going to have to go back to the army stores for a reinforced flak jacket.
In many ways there are similarities with the United Kingdom. There has been a feeling in both countries that the health authorities and their overlords were somehow in control, despite the dire warnings coming from some quarters that many of us preferred to dismiss or hope would not happen. I stand by most of my comments from the past few weeks though I accept they were not always right.
In the UK many hundreds are now infected and the death toll is slowly starting to rise. The government is being blasted after a honeymoon period when they were praised and the “experts” were allowed full rein without question.
In Thailand there are about 80 cases but fears are legitimately growing that an explosion is about to begin to take the country to another level of community infection. Relying on evidence that the virus hates hot weather or the health service is in control may prove to be clutching at straws. It is difficult to predict and the huge amount of news and data prevalent in the “information age” is making it harder than ever to sift the wheat from the chaff.
On the face of it Britain seems to bracing for what could be 100,000 deaths. The government there is virtually encouraging the spread of the virus to induce a “herd immunity” whereby the virus can be contained after it has peaked in several months. They have predicted that 60% of the population could be infected and fear the underfunded NHS could be overwhelmed. Boris Johnson warned about fatalities but shied away from the numbers. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out what 2% of 40 million is. Heaven forbid if the percentage of deaths experienced in Italy were to be replicated elsewhere.
Here in Thailand there is huge skepticism about the figures. Personally I believe there has hardly been any deaths – I can’t accept that in this well connected digital age it could be covered up. But I can accept that the numbers of those infected could suddenly rise in the kingdom. Hand in morbid hand with that goes fatalities, especially those with underlying health conditions, compromised immune systems and the aged.
I make no apology for writing more about the world this week than just Thailand. With the official declaring of the pandemic and so many of the stories having a direct bearing on Thailand it is impossible to separate the country from the rest of the world. Thais – for so long thoroughly insular in their outlook – are learning more and more about the outside world. More about the lessons to be learned and their place on the globe.
For Mrs Rooster it was having a husband continually translating the latest developments from Sky News, articulating what this and that might mean for her and the children. By the end of the week she was rushing in to inform me of the latest development on her own Thai news feeds (inevitable about a Thai luuk-khreung celebrity contracting the virus!). Our strategy for protecting ourselves and our family over the coming months has been put in place. I anticipate that we shall all be virtual hermits until mid-year. No holidays to crowded areas. Few trips out. Lots of swimming at home and making things with old boxes.
Among the most devastating impacts this week were the following. The virtual lock down of Italy. Donald Trump’s banning of flights from Europe. The decimation of sporting fixtures right around the world. Huge stock market crashes across the continents including some of the heaviest losses in three decades. Looming world recession. Infections of the rich and famous and high profile politicians. Companies teetering on collapse. Tourism and worldwide air travel coming to an end at least for the next few months. Countries imposing travel bans. The list went on and on. The virus slowing in China became almost secondary as Europe became the new epicenter.
In Thailand things became as shambolic as alarming with the government announcing then reversing visa requirements. Losing track of people who should be in quarantine and flip-flopping on what quarantine should mean,how it might be accomplished and even who should be in it. They banged on and on about the availability and corruption in the sale of masks when their usage has largely been declared pointless for most people worldwide.
The director of Thai Airways resigned. Maybe just maybe, this bloated waste of corporate space, so long the failing apple of the eye of the military that has been hemorrhaging tax-payers’ money for years , could finally be brought down by the virus. The director of Suwannaphum (my spelling) resigned after complaining that he had been hung out to dry by the AOT amid their patently lacking procedures at airports. He later reversed this and will be welcomed back into the fold after he has had a lie down for a week.
Immigration chief Sompong “Big Oud” Chingduang appeared in face mask flanked by commandos seemingly ready to unleash their war-weapon bullets on any corona-thing that came anywhere near their leader. An airport immigration officer fell sick and we were told that he had touched his face with a gloved hand after handling tourists’ passports.
Banks stopped doing foreign exchange at branches and booths and some were even cleaning the money. The SET plummeted as businesses of all descriptions, not just in the tourism sector, felt the pull of financial doom. This week it was potential bankruptcy and a vicious yank down (no reference to Trump intended).
Rumors abounded that foreigners would be tracked by apps and sim cards. The BBC’s Jonathan Head said it well when he stated that Thailand was “facing a perfect storm” and that its leaders were “ill-equipped to weather” that storm. And some. This present motley group of fools, billionaires and assorted criminals who can’t tell flour from heroin haven’t got a clue. Ultimately, along with a growing resentment from the people about their appalling performance and illegitimacy, the virus may be the catalyst for their midyear downfall. Student protests continued almost behind the scenes.
Goodness knows these government jokers need to exit stage left; and none more so than the utterly disgraceful health minister and DPM Anutin Charnvirakul. Following his attack on a lone foreigner who wouldn’t accept his offer of a free mask last month, this so called leader attacked Westerners for being dirty and unkempt and spreading the virus in Thailand after fleeing Europe.
Anutin’s racist, vile and nonsensical outburst was completely unbefitting of a government minister. His posts, made after a trip to Chiang Mai, were soon removed and his Twitter account was subsequently deleted. Some said it was a fake account. I don’t buy that. The lack of denial and tumbleweed when he would normally be screaming “fake news” spoke volumes.
Someone had told him to remove his comments. But that someone should have sacked him on the spot. Anutin had “previous” in his February outburst in Bangkok. His latest tirade took it to a whole new level and the damage he has done to his country is immense.
Some on Thaivisa, especially on Facebook, said they were contacting their embassies for a strongly worded response. Save your breath. It is not just the British embassy now that is a pointless waste of space. Almost all embassies in Thailand are toothless institutions of virtually no help to their citizens, existing solely as trade missions grovelling sycophantically so as not to upset their own gravy train and inter-state business interests.
Referring to Anutin, Thaivisa forum Poster of the Year Yinn claimed Thais don’t even know the minister. She posted something along the lines of “I don’t care (about) him”. Thanks for that, but frankly I’m not sure I care for your opinions masquerading as those of the majority of your country folk.
Thais in forums throughout the world were almost as outraged as foreigners as the story became one of the most shared in recent years. I accept that any foreigner who has been in Thailand five minutes has been subject to the cajolery of Thais poking fun at our bathing habits. But this was a senior minister on a public forum for goodness sake. Even a country lass like Mrs R, who mischievously hums happy birthday when she sees me heading for the shower, could grasp that.
Non-virus news was hard to find as this translator worried that the keys C,O,V,I,D 1 and 9 would wear off my laptop before the weekend. Many posters said that the continuing carnage on the Thai roads put deaths from coronavirus in perspective. Daily News reported that a staggering 90 were dead at the scene on Monday contributing to 460 so far in March and 3,110 for the year to date. This national outrage continues unabated and largely unaddressed.
Dhanin Chearavanont, surprise surprise, won the right to buy Tesco in Thailand and Malaysia setting up potentially one of the biggest monopolies in Thailand. The $10 billion deal will be a test for the kingdom’s fledgling antitrust watchdog, especially their credibility.
Consumers at the nation’s supermarkets and convenience stores could be forgiven for thinking that the customer is always wrong. Price wars that are so good for consumers in places like England are virtually non-existent in Thailand resulting in high prices and a cavalier disdain for the public. How I wish that this scandalous situation would end.
In a week very short on laughs the TAT didn’t disappoint. They still maintained that everything would be hunky-dory by midyear at the latest and 36 million would come to Thailand in 2020. This shower are now a national laughing stock.
Finally, as we embark on what may be a pivotal week in Thailand’s place in the pandemic, I would like to wish all readers the best. Be careful to protect yourself and those around you and don’t take unnecessary risks. Maintain a skepticism but try to be fair. Be judicious in accessing information and reasonable in your posts if going online.
And above all be safe.
This is a weekly feature exclusive to Thaivisa and written by our in house journalist.