Today, Thailand entered Phase 2 of its recovery plan. Shopping malls are opening; the curfew has been relaxed a bit; some of the local stores which had been shuttered are opening. In Pattaya, many farangs will still be unable to swim or go to gyms at their condos because some of those remain closed. Many Thais, dependent upon the entertainment industries, will not yet be able to return to work. Due to continuing restrictions on international tourist arrivals until at least the end of June, many venues will service customers with only skeletal staffs.
Given that Thailand has been minimally touched by the virus- less than 60 deaths and just more than 3000 cases, and new cases daily in single digits- it seems that the government has taken an aggressive approach to its handling of the pandemic. That is not necessarily a good or bad thing and I’m not making a value judgment as to policy.
However, there are hopefully two things that policy makers are considering. The first consideration that should guide policy is a risk evaluation. That seems obvious but along with that evaluation should be a rationale accompanying that decision. For example, the government has suggested that condos may open gyms to a limited extent. Gym goers can use free weights but not treadmills or stationary bikes. Okay, so what is the rationale behind that decision? Is there a sense that treadmill users are more likely to spread the virus than weightlifters? If so, how and why? A simple statement accompanying the policy would be helpful. “We are allowing condos to open gyms to a limited extent but treadmill use will be off limits because…”
Having written the preceding paragraph, let me acknowledge that I’m a Westerner and expect an explanation from my government. I also realize that it is perhaps a bit nontraditional for the Thai government to feel a need to explain its decisions. There are advantages and disadvantages to offering an explanation. Certainly, by offering an explanation the government can be seen as serving the interests of people and being transparent. The drawback is that any explanation would be subject to second-guessing.
Underlying the risk evaluation however is an economic calculus. Opening facilities at condos don’t really affect economic health. Obviously, the government is more concerned with restarting businesses, but the idea of providing a rationale still applies. So again if a mall is opening but the restaurants cannot serve alcohol a simple “because” statement would be helpful.
The second consideration, which policy makers should examine, is arguably much more important than providing a rationale for current decisions. In six months, this pandemic may be largely in our rear view mirror, but the next storm will be gathering. So it is incumbent upon the decision makers to gather data from their handling of this crisis..
Perhaps in concert with ASEAN partners the government can establish regional protocols that draw on the work of epidemiologists. This is a global pandemic but it hasn’t been handled globally. Individual nations have responded piecemeal. The next time an epidemic threatens the entire world we should have in place solutions that transcend national borders.
About The Author:
Patrick Mattimore, now retired and living in Pattaya, was an Adjunct Professor of Legal Reasoning and Case Briefing: Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program in Beijing, teaching psychology to students there. He has also been an online columnist for the Phuket Gazette and its partner newspaper China Daily, covering a variety of topics from why rumors spread panic to selfies among the tuhao.