Nearly every day I get an email from the US State Department. Somewhere in the message there is always an admonition that things are shutting down quickly in Thailand and that it’s important for Americans to get home immediately. International flights are limited and likely to become even more infrequent.
Are they kidding? Why would I want to leave Oz? I remember being in an airport somewhere a couple of years ago sitting between two departure gates, one of which had a sign for Phuket and another which had a sign for San Francisco. I also remember thinking how grateful I was that I was getting on the plane going to Phuket, even though I still had a domicile in San Francisco.
Like many farangs, I love living in Thailand. Why should I head back to the country which at last count had over one thousand times the number of deaths from the virus as Thailand? With about five times as many people as Thailand that still makes me about two hundred times more likely to die from the virus if I’m in the US.
Even if there was no virus, I can’t imagine exchanging this near paradise for the life of an old man ghost which is what I become whenever I venture stateside. Costs are higher in America. Services are generally no better. Crime is rampant.
But let’s go back to the virus for a moment. What’s perplexing to me is why Thailand has so many fewer cases and deaths than the US. The first confirmed case of the virus in Thailand was reported on January 13, one week before the first reported case in the US. I may be misremembering this but I don’t recall Thailand taking any extreme measures (curfews, alcohol bans, masks, shop closures, etc.) until about March 20, roughly the same time America was for the most part going into shutdown mode.
Were I an epidemiologist studying in the aftermath of this virus, I would certainly want to try and understand why a country such as Thailand and many other Southeast Asian countries have seemingly suffered relatively little effects from this pandemic. I know that the current thinking is that Thailand has somehow averted this crisis by the lockdown measures it has taken. But is that the case? The virus was here before it hit the US. Both countries enacted draconian measures at about the same time. It is widely acknowledged that the response of the US government was too late to avert the crisis it now faces, which suggests that Thailand needed to act sooner too but, apparently the government’s delayed action here was appropriate.
Certainly the fact that the US has many more airports and had many more international arrivals during the critical period from Jan.1 until March 20 is important. In Thailand, there is less domestic travel, fewer older adults and relatively fewer of those adults living in nursing homes, and the climate is tropical. Still, is that enough to account for the different effects of the virus in Thailand and the US?
It will be great if scientists in a few years can explain all the factors as to why two countries, acting similarly, experienced vastly different results. It may also help us to ameliorate the effects of the next pandemic.
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.
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