Giles Ji Ungpakorn
At time of writing (3rd April 2020) the official figures for those infected with the corona virus stood at 1,978 with 19 deaths. This figure may well under-estimate the spread of the virus as there have not been any systematic tests like in South Korea. We also know that the parliamentary junta is prone to lying. However, if other countries are anything to go by, Thailand may well be at the beginning of a steep rise in viral infections.
Despite warning signs from China in early February, the Thai government has failed to properly implement basic measures necessary for containing the viral pandemic. These should include closing non-essential workplaces and postponing public events, encouraging social distancing, organising efficient testing and tracking and making serious provisions for treating patients in hospitals. Support for workers affected by the viral pandemic have been minimal and often are chaotic.
The blog site “Doctor on Duty” reports that there is no proper coordination between the Ministry of Health, state hospitals and private hospitals. There continues to be serious shortages of face masks and protective equipment, with profiteering and corruption rife. Testing is uncoordinated with little evidence of the free testing promised by the government. In fact the government has been caught lying on a number of occasions.
On March 3rd, the government ordered the suspension of all sporting events, but the army-run stadium in Bang Khen district still went ahead with fights on March 6th in front of a large number of spectators. People who attended this event have caught the virus and some have died. This is a typical example of how the military behave like the Mafia, doing what they like and making money on the side at the same time.
On 22nd March the governor of Bangkok ordered the closure of shops, restaurants, tourist sites, educational institutions and service sector establishments. The next day there was pandemonium at the long distance coach stations, as thousands of laid-off workers hurried to return to their family homes in the provinces to avoid destitution. The effect was to export the virus out of Bangkok to provinces all over the country. On 26th March a state of emergency was declared, with several travel restrictions.
Thai migrant workers returning from places like South Korea have been insultingly called “little ghosts” in the media and have received appalling treatment in quarantine centres. According to Khaosod newspaper, Thai fishery workers who returned from Malaysia were surprised to find that the coronavirus “quarantine facility” they had to stay in for the next 14 days turned out to be nothing more than tents pitched on the side of a road.
For middle-class Thais and students, trying to return from abroad, the government has forced them to obtain a doctor’s certificate and an embassy letter before they are allowed on a flight. Imagine getting a doctor’s certificate of good health in a European country under pandemic lock down!
The government announced some financial aid for the self-employed and temporary employees. People were to be given 5,000 baht per month for 3 months. At the end of March almost 20 million people registered for this aid in less than 48 hours, almost seven times the number estimated by authorities. Not only were there problems with the on-line registration, but large tightly-packed queues gathered outside the government savings banks, thus helping to spread the virus. But all those who registered might not even be guaranteed payments.
Large multinationals Honda, Mazda and Ford closed their auto production lines in late March, for a period of at least 3 weeks, laying off 11,000 workers on full pay. They claimed that this was to protect workers. It is likely that this was a measure to retain skilled employees during a time of very low orders, so that production could be resumed quickly. Workers in company accommodation were not allowed to leave the premises.
In other areas, workers in small parts factories have been laid-off due to orders drying up from China and other manufacturing countries. These workers will have to rely on Social Insurance pay-outs.
The World Bank has predicted that the Thai economy will shrink by around 5%, almost double the shrinkage in GDP following the 2008 global recession. Yet the situation could turn out to be much worse. Prolonged shut downs in major economies could cause shrinkages of over 15% worldwide and this would have a knock-on effect on Thailand.
Government spending on Covid 19 was only about 3% of GDP in early April, far less than some other countries such as Singapore. No doubt the majority of the money was being channelled to businesses rather than citizens. Yet an editorial in the Bangkok Post on 3rd April stated that: “Instead of offering deferrals on principal and interest payments on residential mortgages, auto and business loans for a long or indefinite period, the majority of banks and financial companies have come up with packages which are tailor-made to ensure handsome profits will still go into their pockets.”
Meanwhile it is business as usual for the military, with more planned weapons purchases.
But the most disgusting scene of all is the Oaf-King Wachiralongkorn living it up in style in a German luxury hotel along with his concubines and servants. This has caused much anger among the public and people have been expressing this anger on social media in indirect ways, despite the draconian lèse-majesté laws.
It is high time to sweep away the monarchy and the military junta which props up this long-out of date relic. This is a time when people should be increasing their criticism of the Prayut government and preparing to build movements to overthrow the military in the future.
SEE A MORE UP-TO-DATE ARTICLE ON COVID 19 IN THAILAND HERE: Is poverty a greater threat to Thais than Covid 19? https://bit.ly/2WsTqFq
See more on Prayut’s “parliamentary dictatorship” https://bit.ly/2x2OnD5
See more on the Oaf-King Wachiralongkorn https://bit.ly/3dNQewd and https://bit.ly/2UCXKSY