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2020: A year in Covid-19 milestones

Maya Taylor

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2020: A year in Covid-19 milestones | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Axel Ginolin
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As the world embraces the dawn of a new year, while tentatively waiting to see what it has in store, it will be some time before the trauma of 2020 can be laid to rest. The year that has just ended will forever be remembered for the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed over 1.8 million lives to date, infected millions worldwide, and decimated the global economy.

The current assumption is that Covid-19 began in central China, with the first cases reported in Wuhan, in December 2019. However, some sources dispute the origins of the virus, with claims that it may have been spreading undetected in Europe even earlier in the year. The bottom line is that, as with much else connected to this virus, nobody really knows yet.

Here, we take a look back on 2020’s Covid-19 milestones as they occurred.

January 9
Covid-19 claims its first life, in Wuhan, China. Chinese authorities report the death of a 61 year old male patient on January 11, citing a coronavirus-type illness. The news prompts countries used to such outbreaks, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, to instigate screening of visitors arriving from Wuhan. Meanwhile, millions of Chinese nationals continue to make travel plans for the upcoming Chinese New Year.

January 28
By now, 100 deaths have been reported and the virus has spread beyond China’s borders. Some countries send planes to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, which is still the epicentre of the outbreak and in strict lockdown. Facemasks are now mandatory in some Chinese cities, as health officials conclude the virus originated in illegal wildlife at a Wuhan wet market.

January 30
The World Health Organisation declares a global emergency.

February 10
The death toll reaches 1,000, as more countries record their first infections and the virus is officially named Covid-19. By the end of the month, hundreds of people test positive while stranded on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. A British passenger becomes the first UK national to die from the virus.

March 19
The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, insists the UK can “turn the tide” against the virus within 12 weeks.

March 20
The virus has now claimed 10,000 lives, as attention turns to Europe, which accounts for around half the global death toll. At this stage, Italy is by far the worst-affected country, and has been in strict lockdown since earlier in the month. Around 250,000 infections have been recorded around the world, with 80,000 people having recovered. China records its second consecutive day of no new local infections.

March 24
The UK goes into national lockdown, with the death toll having reached 335.

March 26
Boris Johnson tests positive for the virus. On April 5, he is admitted to hospital. On April 6, he is transferred to intensive care as his condition worsens.

Thailand declares a state of emergency, sealing its borders. The country goes into national lockdown, with all but essential businesses shut, inter-provincial travel banned, and the southern island of Phuket cut off from the mainland.

April 9
100,000 deaths worldwide. The UK has now lost nearly 9,000 lives to Covid-19, with London declared the epicentre of the virus. The then US President Donald Trump denies his administration has been too slow to respond to the threat, while admitting up to 100,000 Americans could lose their lives. Today, the US death toll stands at over 340,000.

April 10
New York records more cases of the virus than any individual country.

April 12
Boris Johnson is discharged from hospital after his condition improves.

June 29
Covid-19 has claimed 500,000 lives worldwide. With the arrival of summer, lockdown has been eased in some countries. The EU says that from July 1, it will re-open its borders to some countries, including Australia and Canada, but excluding the US. The virus continues to accelerate in the United States and the rest of the Americas, as well as in Africa and South Asia.

July 1
Following a phased easing of restrictions, Thailand emerges from the final stages of lockdown, with the exception of its borders, which remain shut to most international arrivals.

September 28
The world records a sobering milestone of 1 million deaths from Covid-19. The US, Brazil and India are the worst-affected countries.

October 2
Donald Trump and his wife Melania test positive for the virus. While she isolates at home, he is admitted to hospital the following day. He is discharged 3 days later, following treatment with the steroid, dexamethasone.

November 9
US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announces that its vaccine, developed in conjunction with German biotechnology firm, BioNTech, has proved 90% effective in phase 3 trials. The announcement is swiftly followed by more positive news about the efficacy of the Moderna vaccine, as well as that developed by AstraZeneca, in partnership with the UK’s Oxford University.

December 15
Most of Europe continues to battle a second wave of the virus. The British government comes under increasing pressure to impose stricter restrictions over the Christmas period, in line with measures in other European countries.

December 19
Thailand finds itself facing a resurgence of the virus, having seemingly gone months without a case of local transmission. The spike began when a 67 year old woman who worked in a fish market in the central province of Samut Sakhon tested positive. Read the story about the Samut Sakhon Cluster HERE.

December 30

The “Samut Sakhon Cluster” has now become a national outbreak and spread to 45 provinces in just 11 days, with active cases in the Kingdom now surpassing 2,400, adding nearly 50% to the total before December 19.

January 1, 2021
The world has now recorded 83,806,857 infections of Covid-19. The death toll currently stands at 1,825,709, as of 9am Thai time on New Year’s Day.

SOURCE: BBC News | Worldometers

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Thailand

Thailand’s PM says he won’t let Thais become vaccine “guinea pigs”

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Thailand’s PM says he won’t let Thais become vaccine “guinea pigs” | The Thaiger

Thailand’s PM is saying he won’t let Thai people become vaccine “guinea pigs” in his Facebook post today as he points to reports of serious negative side effects that some people have suffered after getting jabbed with the Covid-19 vaccine. Instead, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha says he will wait for more information from the experts about whether such side effects were attributed to the vaccine solely, or other factors.

“For Thai people, I decided not to take the risk and will not rush to inoculate with vaccines which have not been fully tested and will not let Thai people become guinea pigs.”

He says the National Vaccine Committee will advise the government and closely supervise the use of Covid-19 vaccines in the country once they are rolled out. As the vaccines are not yet available, he reiterated the importance of taking precautions such as wearing face masks when leaving home, practising social distancing and abstaining from gatherings, particularly political ones.

The government has reported 374 new cases of Covid-19 in the kingdom today, with all but 10 being locally-transmitted. Now, the total has risen to 12,000 cases since the pandemic began.

A government spokesman is also saying that PM Prayut is worried about people’s health as the weather has taken a turn for the cold. He also affirmed the importance of imposing measures under the Emergency Decree and Thailand’s Communicable Disease Act in order to help curb the recent Covid second wave. He is also reminding the public to download the Thai Chana and Mor Chana apps.

Thailand has ordered 60 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from a variety of sources, with the first shipment of 200,000 doses to arrive in February. Those vaccines are from China’s Sinovac Biotech. In March, another 800,000 doses are scheduled to arrive and another million by April.

The government has also pre-ordered 26 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, using vaccine technology transfer to allow local production by Thailand’s local company, Siam Bio Science.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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374 new cases today – Covid update

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374 new cases today – Covid update | The Thaiger

New case numbers have jumped alarmingly again today, even though the growth curve was starting to flatten a bit this week. Thailand is reporting 374 new cases of Covid-19today over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to over 12,000 infections since the pandemic began. Only 10 of those cases were non-local infections as they were found in state quarantine. 43 cases were found in the public and 321 cases were found within the migrant worker areas. 10 cases were found in Bangkok, and 24 cases were found in Samut Sakhon, where the initial cluster that kicked off the second wave began.

61 provinces are now reporting Covid cases with Patthalung province being the latest. Dr. Thaweesin Visanuyothin, from the CCSA, says the situation in surrounding countries is also concerning as he fears they may have a “knock-on” effect.

Samut Sakhon, Rayong, and Chon Buri provinces are still under almost full lockdowns due to the amount of cases found in migrant workers and from people frequenting illegal gambling dens. Thaweesin says entertainment venues are exposing the country to risks, as they are still open past curfew hours. He is urging the public to cooperate with the government in order to help curb further transmissions of the virus.

PM Prayut is also requesting people to stop holding public gatherings, (code for anti-government protests), in order to help prevent the spread of the virus. A spokesman says Prayut is “concerned” for the public’s health after recent weather has seen a drop in temperatures, only adding to the worries of contracting the coronavirus. Prayut has also asked the public to be careful when trying to stay warm, as starting bonfires could be dangerous.

The cold pass coming from China is expected to blanket Thailand starting today and lasting through January 19, causing a drop in temperatures of up to 8 degrees Celsius in northern areas.

The government spokesman also reiterated the need for the emergency decree to be enforced as well as the measures under Thailand’s Communicable Disease Act in order to help contain the virus. For their part, protest spokespersons have said they are delaying any new protests for the time being.

SOURCE: Thai Enquirer

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived.

The Thaiger

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Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived. | The Thaiger

OPINION

The Thai Government, flushed with the success of their containment of Covid-19, decided to market the Land of Smiles to the world as the safe place to travel. With the annual wet season starting to weaken the tourists would flock back to the S E Asian country that had such remarkable success containing, then almost eradicating, itself of the coronavirus.

They floated the Phuket Model – a chance to visit Phuket and do your mandatory quarantine in a luxury hotel with walks along the almost deserted beaches. But Phuket’s locals didn’t like that idea. It was floated again just before the annual Vegetarian Festival on the island, because piercing yourself with sharp objects and wandering around the streets in big groups isn’t dangerous, but a few foreign tourists in hotel quarantine is.

Then they came up with the STV – the tourist visa which would have the world’s eager travellers packing their sun cream for up to 270 days of Thai tourism.

There were promises of plane loads of tourists and even published flights and carriers. A few flights arrived, most didn’t.

In fact, since the start of the STV, the Special Tourist Visa, with its long list of restrictions and requirements, was floated, along with a re-vamped Tourist Visa, less than 400 people have arrived per month, on average, since the end of October. In the October and November of the year before more than 3 million people arrived in Thailand. Even the government’s limit of 1,200 new tourist arrivals per month was even slightly tested.

The government had bought all the streamers and a pretty new dress for the party but no one came.

For the Army generals and public servants who ran the country it was a devastating loss of face. But they had other things to worry about at the time as the Thai youth were revolting, literally. Anti-government protests, whilst modest in size, were inconveniently demanding democracy at the same time as the government was trying to figure out how to attract tourists. They were also targeting, for the first time, the country’s revered monarchy and the man who currently sits on the Thai throne.

Suddently it was high season, the annual onslaught of tourists from the end of November, but popular spots like Phuket, Samui, Krabi, all the other islands, even Chiang Mai, just remained mostly devoid of tourists.

Meanwhile the STV wallowed in its own failure – another failed response to the reboot of Thai tourism.

What went wrong?

Where was the much-anticipated pent-up demand and people banging on the doors of the world’s Thai embassies?

It was the European winter and the ‘snowbirds’ would surely be back to soak in some Thai sun rays. But no.

The first problem was there wasn’t much for them to come back to. They would have the beaches of the islands all to themselves, they wouldn’t have to wait in line for anything, the domestic airlines were still selling low fares to travel anywhere around the country.

But otherwise there wasn’t a lot for them to do. The tourism magnets were a shadow of their former selves. Walking Street, Bangla Road, tours and tour boats, all the tourist-strip restaurants. The buzz of the crowds was gone and more than 90% of the tourist-related business had closed up.

Their staff, their families, their bank loans, their stock and investments – all on hold and forced to find some other means to make ends meet. 931 of some of the larger official tourism operators have now gone out of business, according to Bloomberg News. There would be thousands more of the smaller family operations that have also been swept aside by the Thai government’s responses to the world pandemic.

The industry players wanted action, changes and some sort of stimulus to bring back the tourists. For a country that relied on up to 20% for its GDP, getting the tourists and travellers back was THE only thing on their mind. 2019’s tourism revenue of US$60 billion had vanished from their, and their employee’s, pockets.

But the government wouldn’t relax the quarantine rules and maintained the restrictions and paperwork that has turned off even the keenest Thai-ravellers.

An outbreak of clusters to the south of Bangkok and the nearby eastern coastal provinces since December 20 hasn’t helped. In less than a month Thailand’s number of Covid-19 infections more than doubled. Initially the latest outbreak was tracked down to the illegal import of Burmese migrant workers by greedy seafood businesses wanting cheap labour. Then it spread to eastern provinces – Rayong, Chan Buri, Trat and Chanthaburi – through illegal gambling dens. In both cases the practices were things the local officials turned a blind eye to. The use of cheap, illegal migrant labour and illegal gambling were both popular pursuits but ‘underground’. It was a rude awakening for Thai officials that, this time, the enemy was within.

Street after street in Pattaya is deserted, shops shuttered. Parts of Phuket’s Patong are a ghost town. The island’s ubiquitous tuk tuks, taxis and tourist vans have vanished (where?!). Most of Bangkok is ‘sort of’ back to normal but there are few tourists topping up the retail till or booking rooms in the tens of thousands of hotels. Average occupancy rates, even for the brave hotels that have re-opened their doors, has been less than 30% – bottomline, they’re losing money.

On the upside, if you are living in Thailand, the plane fares remain cheap, hotels have slashed their prices and, for the first time, many renters will consider a discount. The Thai government has been active in stimulating the domestic tourism but apart from circulating the local currency, the country’s tourism industry remains on-hold until the pandemic passes. And that, as we’ve seen, won’t be any time soon.

The world’s travellers, now a much smaller groups than the masses that fuelled the world’s aviation industry in the past few decades, are not heading to Thailand to front up to a 14 day quarantine. They’re going to the Maldives and Costa Rica, and a handful of other resorts who have thrown caution to the wind – some with greater success than others. Just about every survey indicates that tourists, even business travellers, are not willing to stare down 14 days couped up in a 20-30 square metre hotel room. For many of the hotels that rushed to be registered as ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) facilities, many have dropped out, some of them are now closed.

The stakes are now really high for Thailand and its tourism industry. The government, despite demands, is refusing to reduce the quarantine time or lessen the long list of restrictions and paperwork. The country has now lost it’s glossy veneer as the ‘safe country to visit’ and the annual high season will be coming to a close in a month or so.

Chinese New Year and the annual flood of Chinese visitors to Thailand? Won’t be happening in 2021, the Chinese year of the Ox.

The other ‘elephant in the room’ was the high value of the Thai baht against the currencies of some of the traditional feeder markets. Whilst the Thai baht has been relatively steadfast, many of these currencies have dropped in value against the THB. The perception was that Thailand as becoming too expensive to travel. But 2019 was still the biggest year for tourism on record, despite this often-wheeled out prediction of a tourism apocalypse.

The only hope on the horizon is the vaccine, or vaccines. The early global roll out is just that, early. It will take 6 – 12 months to see if the hard work of the world’s medical and scientific community will be the great saviour.Certainly, a risk-averse Thailand will be limiting any tourism in the immediate future to vaccinated customers. only, and (as stated policy) they will still have to do the 14 day mandatory quarantine, at least in the short-to medium term. Same with the world’s airlines. So Thailand’s tourism woes, especially in the hotspots – Pattaya, Phuket, the islands, Chiang Mai and Bangkok – will reverberate throughout 2021 as well.

Thailand’s economy contracted 6% in 2020 but some economists are predicting a positive turn-around to a 3.5 – 4.5% improvement in 2021. Even the ever-optimistic Thai Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, says that there will be 10 million arrivals in 2021. The actual numbers, even in the best of circumstances, will fall well below that prediction. Exactly where the tourists would come from, under the current circumstances and a global depression, is difficult to imagine.

In 2020 the buzz word in the tourism industry was ‘closure’. In 2021 it will be ‘management’.

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