How Bangkok Tackled Coronavirus
While the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world, there are some countries that have experienced better results in dealing with it and containing it.
Thailand, and specifically its capital Bangkok, is a COVID-19 success story because its statistics are much better compared to other nations in Asia and around the world.
Considering that the population of Thailand (in 2018) was 69.4 million, and 3,220 people contracted COVID-19 as of July 13, 2020, it is necessary to look at how the country contained the virus and limited its fatality rate to 58 deaths in the past 7 months.
Ways in which Bangkok managed to tackle COVID-19
1. Quick Action
When the first outbreak was reported by China in Wuhan on December 31, 2019, it only took 3 days for Thailand to leap to action with the first step being to screen travellers at Thai airports.
Medical professionals are highly respected in Thailand so their leadership was vital in those early January days. They moved quickly but methodically to limit COVID-19 from infiltrating the country.
Temperature screenings were implemented by healthcare workers at the nation's airports. Quarantining travellers as necessary commenced immediately until eventually when it became necessary to quarantine everyone travelling to Thailand from the rest of the world.
2. Mask Wearing
Because of air quality issues, 95% of Thai citizens wear masks in public. This is the highest rate in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, Bangkok has developed a reputation for unhealthy air pollution from vehicles, industrial emissions, and agricultural processes so mask wearing is already a relief for those whose chests ache when ingesting the city's air. Because mask wearing was already a common practice to preserve the health and safety of Thai citizens, there was no learning curve or implementation issues involved with convincing people to wear masks.
The issue was never politicised. It remained in the appropriate realm of public health. This also limited the problem with supply and demand of masks that existed in other countries. Most people already owned masks, and surgical (N95) masks were readily available for sale in stores.
3. Thorough Contact Tracing
It was determined that widespread testing would be cost prohibitive so contact tracing processes began quickly. Mobile COVID-19 units travelled through Bangkok giving free tests to those deemed at risk due to contact tracing efforts. Tests were administered in ambulances in the neighbourhoods of the people who should be tested. It is also believed that healthcare workers travelling to potential COVID-19 sufferers cut down the number of new cases because COVID-19 sufferers did not infect others while travelling to a testing site.
Even as Bangkok opened to the public in mid-June, contact tracing remained a priority but was handled differently. People entering restaurants and shops use their phones to scan a QR code to keep track of who was there and when so that people could be notified if it is later learned that an infected person was there. Though this process continues as a way to curb outbreaks, it has been met with paranoia by some who believe it is a means for the government to track their movements.
4. Constant Monitoring
As other nations have learned, processes during a pandemic may only be effective for so long before needing to be changed. From January through March, Bangkok remained steadfast at holding COVID-19 at bay, but in March, group gatherings at boxing stadiums and nightclubs caused case numbers to rise so the country essentially began locking itself down. First, non-essential businesses, schools, and entertainment venues were shut down on March 21. On March 26, all public gatherings were banned, and finally on April 6, all international flights were cancelled (with the exception of those for bringing home Thai citizens).
Things remained very quiet in Bangkok until June 15 when some restrictions were lifted. What hasn't changed is that those entering the country (mainly foreign diplomats and dignitaries; tourists are not yet allowed.) are required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Thailand.
To date, migrant workers are also not yet permitted to enter the country. Concerns about an outbreak are mounting as illegal migrant workers have been entering the country, and the Thai Government has ordered that the borders be tightened as a protective measure.
Thailand has had a small resurgence since its reopening. It made national news that there were 14 new cases reported on July 12. These cases were due to travellers entering the country, but the Thai government has repeatedly warned citizens to remain vigilant in hand washing, social distancing, and mask wearing to prevent future outbreaks.
The consistent messaging and vigilance with which it's being delivered is working. As of July 11, Thailand has gone 47 days without a domestic COVID-19 case.
6. Flexible Travel Policies
It is possible to be consistent, vigilant, and flexible.
Akyra Hotel Group allowed cancellations with full refunds or changes in reservations made prior to July 31, 2020. It has also published its stringent sanitising protocols. These policies and protocols are indicative of what the entire country has undergone to quell the virus.
While Bangkok has been successful in relative terms to tackling COVID-19, it is still feeling the effects of a worldwide pandemic. It certainly does not help that Thailand entered the COVID-19 pandemic ranked 4th (in the world) of countries with the most severe income inequality. Social distancing was more challenging in these settings, so the threat of COVID-19 was always prevalent.
Bangkok's results show that navigating through a worldwide pandemic is full of complexities. Minimising the health risks creates a trickle-down effect into other aspects of society, and existing socioeconomic issues become even more glaring problems in its midst.
Thailand's management of COVID-19 will be viewed a success because there was quick and decisive action, effective leadership, consistent messaging, and vigilance.
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