Thai government unleashes the worry machine for Songkran – OPINION

Today a popular English-language information outlet led with a story that quotes Dr Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, DG of the Department of Health, who claims the public health ministry is forecasting daily Covid infections may hit 100,000 after Songkran this yr.
The Thai public well being ministry, headed up by Minister and deputy PM, Anutin Charnvirakul, has taken a random stab in the lifeless of night and is stirring a climate of uncertainty and concern as Thais prepare for his or her greatest celebration, the Thai New Year, or Songkran.

Each year Thais head out of the town, or away from their week jobs, again home to celebrate with family. It’s also the most harmful time on Thai roads.
Last year’s Songkran did see an enormous surge of Covid infections directly after the brand new yr vacation. On April 6, 2021, the CCSA reported 206 Covid infections from the earlier 24 hours. By April 24 the quantity reached 2,839, previous a June, July and August ‘Delta’ surge which reached 23,418 instances by August thirteen.
(Today there have been 26,234 new official infections announced, together with sixty seven Covid-related deaths throughout Thailand)
Over this previous month the daily Covid reviews of recent every day infections has hovered between 20,000 – 27,000, however with a a lot decrease proportion of Covid-related deaths – about 25% of the day by day deaths recorded during the Covid ‘Delta’ surge between June and August, 2021, still excessive however largely people who are unvaccinated.
The revealed a hundred,000 every day case prediction wouldn’t solely put the Thai medical system beneath extreme pressure, it will probably delay the current four-phase plan to wind back restrictions and the elimination of the Thailand Pass.
It must be noted that the 2021 ‘Songkran surge’ also coincided with the worldwide figures which showed a sharp improve around the same time, and the ‘Delta’ surge was coming to Thailand anyway, Songkran or not.
Songkran in 2020 was in the course of extra draconian lockdowns across Thailand and confirmed no statistical increase in instances.
But, again, the Thai government is wheeling out its worry and calamity narrative, somewhat than pursuing a extra optimistic message about celebrating Songkran at residence whilst taking adequate precautions to guard the sick and elderly. The authorities knows a lot more about Covid, and Omicron, in March 2022, and so do the inhabitants.
Bonus and provincial officials have also added more complexity for 2022 by cancelling, not cancelling, Songkran celebrations. In an infographic final weekend the government’s public relations division printed that each “water splashing” was permitted and, a few sentences later, that “water splashing” is not permitted (it definitely wasn’t clear).
The to-and-from between ministers, pissed off enterprise homeowners and tourism authorities has just added to the confusion in current weeks. The finish result is that, lower than three weeks out from Songkran 2022, no one is strictly sure what they’ll do to participate in the annual ‘water’ pageant.
(Our best guess is that the government will again the ‘traditional’ Buddhist and Thai traditions of Songkran and curtail any of the favored roadside wettings, foam events and massive, public gatherings with water pistols and insane amounts of alcohol.)
This Monday the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration goes to assume about a proposal by Khao San merchants to permit limited celebrations which would include the more exuberant types of water splashing.
No agency steering, constant adjustments and contradictory guidelines.
Meanwhile, nearly every country around Asia, together with South Korea (who are having an enormous surge in Omicron cases… in the space of 200,000 – 600,000 daily infections throughout March), are opening up their borders, using the evidence from around the world, that Omicron, still deadly, is way less harmful than earlier Covid variants.
(From April 1, South Korea is opening borders to full vaccinated worldwide travellers with no quarantine)
Thailand’s instant neighbours – Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, even Myanmar, are all prying open their borders regardless of local surges of Omicron infections. Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines – also opening up and dropping most of their Covid-era restrictions. Singapore is even rescinding laws about carrying face-masks outdoors.
Thailand, just nine months before, was main the region with a plan to reopen borders. Thai officers referred to as it the Sandbox (we really don’t know why). Thailand took the lead and, on July 1, introduced the primary Sandbox in Phuket, which was later adopted by the Test & Go program for absolutely vaccinated travellers.
But now Thailand is trailing the the rest of the area, and the world, in maintaining a long list of restrictions in place and hobbling the recovery of its tourist and hospitality trade. Thailand is now the cowering child in the nook.
The local weather of concern also pervades the daily messaging and imagery out of the Thai authorities. Face-mask adorned officials lining up for day by day picture alternatives (thank heavens for the names under the photos!), medical officers awaiting arriving travellers in PPE, constant announcements about sustaining social distancing, temperature checks at each doorway, and corporations promoting that they clear every thing with surgical precision all day, every day.
(The Thaiger notably loves the barrage of reminders about 2 metre social distancing before getting on domestic flights, only to be bundled into a bus to get to a airplane the place you’re packed in like sardines.)
Whilst some extremely paid official within the well being department probably imagine the imagery instils trust and a sense of safety, they don’t realise it additionally reinforces a high level of concern and wariness about Covid. It could have labored in the early days of Covid, two years ago, however now, with all the data, data and improved medical care available, just appears foolish.
So, we look ahead to Songkran this year, with or without alcohol, with or without water, and with or with out folks sticking swabs up our noses.
Sawasdee pi mai!

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