Living in Bangkok During the COVID-19 Outbreak
As some of you may know, I am currently based in Bangkok, Thailand and even though I rarely come back to my home country due to my work, I hit a jackpot last year when I decided to come back to Thailand to rest for a bit and then the COVID-19 Outbreak happened.
Through December 2019 to now (March 2020), I had a chance to see Thailand's transition from a traveler's paradise to one of the Coronavirus hot zones with tourist attractions deserted, a city in confusion, and the pandemic taking its toll on a country like Thailand that relied so heavily on tourism.
Here are some of the things I have observed so far from talking to people, reading the news, and see Bangkok changes first hand. This should allow you to understand the situation in Thailand a little bit more and maybe help you decide whether you want to visit Thailand right now.
Note: I am in no way an expert when it comes to the Coronavirus outbreak and I did not conduct any detailed research to come up with these points but these are simply the result of my observations on the outbreak as one of the residents living in Bangkok right now so that you can decide whether you want to visit Thailand right now or not.Table of Contents
- Life Goes On As Usual
- Fake News and Misinformation
- Not Many Understand the Potential Threats of COVID-19
- Policies Announced Without a Process
- Inconsistent Precautions Are Being Implemented
- Big Festivals are Cancelled But Will People Listen?
- The Economic Downturn is Imminent
- Things Are Changing Really Fast
- The Ultimate Question: Should You Travel to Thailand Right Now?
Life Goes On As Usual (For the Most Part)
Three months into 2020 and with the Coronavirus outbreak, life seems to go on as usual in Bangkok, for the most part. Offices are still open, markets are still flocked by locals every morning, and people are still doing what they are doing before the outbreak.
Except for the casual check of temperature at the entrance of hospitals, and office buildings, a few questions asked that anyone could have easily lied to, and more people wearing face masks, life in Bangkok is pretty much the same as before.
Locals are still traveling abroad or within their own country, although traveling abroad has been reduced dramatically since the end of February due to the attention it got from the media and a slew of self-righteous public shaming on social media.
People still go to work in a crowded office and participate in small public events or gatherings in hopes that none of their friends or colleagues are among the carriers of COVID-19.
This is quite understandable especially after the world has woken up from its slumber and realizes the potential threats of the outbreak. Thailand, as of
2024 March 2020, has the total number of local infected patients at 70800+ and continuing to increase exponentially with one death, which is nothing in comparison to 10,000 being infected and 1,0003,000+ deaths in Italy.
There are 2 possibilities for the low number of confirmed patients in Thailand, which is a country that received over 10 million Chinese tourists each year. One is either we are taking the threat very seriously just like how the Chinese are doing, or we are not taking enough tests, just like Italy did before their numbers climb.
Update: The number of infection has increased to more than 200 patients now with the biggest single day rise ever on the 20th Mar 2020, adding 60 more patients. This is not looking good and made me realize that maybe the latter conclusion I drew above is the case for Thailand. We will continue to monitor and see how this will pan out.
Fake News and Misinformation
Like anything viral these days (pun intended), there is a ton of fake news and misinformation spreading around social media and chat applications (LINE) where locals often get their news from.
Due to the panic that both the real and fake news created, the locals are becoming more and more confused about the COVID-19 situation in Thailand. Fake news like the number of casualties from the outbreak happening at shopping malls and a highly dramatic number of unconfirmed patients in Chiang Mai are often shared among clueless locals who believed the stories even if they were unable to confirm the source.
That is how fake news spread in Thailand and you will likely see more of these kinds of misinformations as the outbreak continues. You can expect to see a whole lot of confused locals here in Thailand not sure what to do to protect themselves and others from spreading COVID-19.
Not Many Understand the Potential Threats of COVID-19
Photo by Kelly Portuguese Gravity
Due to the misinformation and fake news that have constantly been bombarding our social media every day, it is hard for us to really understand the potential threats of COVID-19.
News like how the virus is unable to survive in hot environments make people believe that it won't spread in a country like Thailand or how drinking alcohol can fend off the virus which is not true.
There was an incident where a group of people, after coming back from South Korea, decided to ignore the 14-days self-quarantine rule the government suggested and went on a trip to Chiang Mai.
Their understanding was that they did not have a fever after arriving home and so they believed that they were not infected even though we all know the virus could lie dormant inside your body for some time before the symptoms show.
These kinds of misunderstanding maybe the reason why life still goes on as usual in Thailand or why the number of patients is still relatively low right now which could pose danger to those who are currently traveling in Thailand.
If you want to understand how the COVID-19 infects your body, how it does inside of you, how it causes the symptoms, how it spreads, and how your body fight off it, here is a great explainer from AsapSCIENCE:
If you are looking for more information on how and why viruses keep appearing in China, this video by Vox is a great place to learn how exactly a virus like COVID-19 spread from China:
Policies Announced Without a Process
The Thai government is currently scrambling their ways to curb the spread of the outbreak amidst anger of the initial handling process which in turn cause them to come up with policies like canceling visa on arrival for 18 countries and visa exemptions for 3 in a rush causing a whole lot of confusion.
They announced the visa cancellation the day before and on the next day, in the morning, they canceled the cancellation plan as they can't put restrictions in place until the measures are approved by the cabinet.
And in the evening that same day, they changed their tunes again and insisted that the visa changes will take effect from that day onward until Sept 30, 2020. It is this kind of back and forth that creates confusion among both the locals and travelers planning to visit Thailand.
If you are traveling to Thailand, expect to see some random, ineffective, or non-existing screening process at the airport and a lot of confused people around you when you arrive at the immigration.
- Thailand cancels visa on arrival for 18 countries, visa exemptions for 3
- Plan to scrap visa causes confusion
Inconsistent Precautions Are Being Implemented (Slowly)
Photo by Kelly Sikkema
As you know, the COVID-19 virus has an incubation period of 14 days, in which it is undetectable until the symptoms start showing and while the city is currently implementing precautions like temperature checks at the entrance of office buildings or asking about your recent travel history before entering a hospital, these are in no way effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The severity of the outbreak is being felt slowly throughout Thailand and in turn, inconsistent precautions are being implemented left and right to provide some protection but do not expect a total lockdown when you arrive in Thailand as you would see in China.
The best way to protect yourself from the outbreak as a traveler is to prepare yourself with a pocketable hand sanitizer and be sure to use it before placing your hands on any surface around you. As the saying goes, cleanliness is next to godliness.
Big Festivals are Cancelled But Will People Listen?
Even though life goes on as usual in Bangkok, the government does know the major risk of huge gatherings and since the Songkran Festival is coming up (13th - 15th April), the government has decided to cancel the celebration nationwide to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Other public events are also canceling left and right in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Thailand like the famous Koh Phangan full moon party, and several local concerts and events.
That said, it is hard to know how the cancellation of the largest event of the year like Songkran Festival will play out as they are some talks that limited activities instead of cancellation maybe enough to curb the outbreak.
Also, will the people listen? That is another story. Last year, the supposedly called-off Songkran festival due to the pending coronation of King Vajiralongkorn went ahead unofficially anyway on Khaosan Road so who's to say that it might not happen again.
- Cancel Culture: No Songkran on Khaosan Road this year
- Thailand’s Koh Phangan full moon party canceled
- Khao San Songkran party scrubbed over virus fears
The Economic Downturn is Imminent
This is very clear to me as I walked around an empty shopping mall that used to be popular among tourists and locals alike. The restaurants that you used to have to queue are barely getting any customers nowadays. The touristy attractions are mostly deserted and for a country that relies so much on tourism like Thailand, this virus outbreak is going to have a huge impact on the economy as a whole.
In February, the amount of tourist arrivals has plunged by more than 40% which is huge for a country with 20% of its GDP coming from the tourism sector. Large chains of hotels are reducing price left and right to attract customers and stay afloat which in turn drove businesses away from the small to medium guesthouses and hotels that are in no position to compete with them.
This will lead to many local businesses closing down and in the long run, impact the the entire economy of Thailand. I have heard from a friend of mine that a business owner in the south had to close down diving business due to the lack of customers during this period so that he can pick up a part-time job to stay afloat.
This is not a good sign for Thai's economy and this effect from the outbreak will likely be felt in many years to come even after the outbreak has passed. Without people spending money, not to mention people hoarding stuff like tissue papers and hand sanitizers, the outlook of Thai's economy is bleak to say the least.
- “Tourist arrivals to plunge 50% in the first half of 2020” – Thai Tourism Minister
- Tourist arrivals may drop 6 million this year due to virus: TAT
- Thai stocks slide most in 11 years
Things Are Changing Really Fast
Even though the process of preventing the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand is a little lackluster, there is no denying that everyone is trying their best to combat the situation.
Things are going to be changing fast. Policies are going to be issued, changes are going to be made that will affect travelers such as yourself, and it is important for you to keep yourself updated on the changes if you are planning to visit Thailand soon.
Expect a lot of delays at the airport, confusion during the screening process, and try not to rely on the country's ability to protect you from the virus. Prepare yourself by carrying your own hand sanitizer, masks, and comply with whatever the process and rules that are put in front of you by the country you are visiting. Do not be that Chinese passenger that deliberately coughed at everyone.
- Coronavirus outbreak updates from Bangkok Post
- Thai Airways crew restrain Chinese passenger who deliberately coughed at them
The Ultimate Question: Should You Travel to Thailand Right Now?
Now, comes the ultimate question, should you visit Thailand right now?
I think it will depend on the type of trips you are planning to do. As mentioned above, life still goes on as usual here in Thailand and even though Thailand is still not risk-free, it is also not as bad (at this point in time) as other countries and since a lot of small and medium businesses are on a lifeline right now, they need you more than ever before. If you have the flexibility of time and you do not mind taking precautions to protect yourself from the virus such as wearing a face mask and carrying a pocket hand sanitizer then, by all means, come visit Thailand and support the local economy by buying from local businesses that are trying their best to stay afloat during this tough time. But if you are visiting Thailand as part of a short vacation and you do not have the luxury to switch around your schedule or be ready for an instant 14-days self-quarantine then I would recommend you avoid visiting Thailand for now.
Update 24 March 2020: Initially, in this article, I recommend people to come visit Thailand if they do not mind taking precautions and being quarantined but as I also mentioned above, things are changing fast here and after the biggest single-day jump of patients that brought the number to more than 800+ infections, I think it is now everyone's responsibility to take social distancing seriously in order to flatten the curve and prevent the spread even further. The COVID-19 is no longer an epidemic but a pandemic, you can get infected and accidentally spread from anywhere now and I no longer advise you to go anywhere at this time.
For more information on how you can help stop the spread of COVID-19, here is a video that explains what flatten the curve means and why social distancing is now everyone's responsibility:
If you are planning to visit Thailand and have a question for me, do not hesitate to ask me in the comments below. Stay safe and enjoy your travel!
The Solo Traveler’s Resources is a series of posts by Bucketlistly where we will explore the ways of life of nomads including how we work, travel, and what we carry in our backpack.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.
Be the first to know when there are new travel guides, videos and inspirational articles on BucketListly Blog.