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Skål International Bangkok’s helps to repatriate a mother and her teacher son

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Skål International Bangkok’s helps to repatriate a mother and her teacher son | Thaiger
PHOTO: John and Nicolette de Villiers - mother and son reunited at their home in Paarle South Africa - SKÅL International

by Andrew Wood

A mother’s plight to rescue her 23 year old son, John de Villiers, who was stranded in Asia and his mother’s wish to return him safely home to South Africa, led to a fantastic story that has to be told. The amazing story involved using key contacts available via Skål International’s global reach, embassies across 3 continents, an ambulance-get-away vehicle and a one-way journey of 27 hours in the air, over 3 days flying 22,000 kilometres, quite literally half way around the world.

Nicolette de Villiers recounting her extraordinary story told me.

“In January 2020 my husband and I enrolled our son John at the Explore Asia Academy in Hua Hin, Thailand to complete a TESOL course with the idea that he could teach English whilst completing his on-line BCOM Degree. It was with much excitement and anticipation that we, as a family, went to Hua Hin to visit the Academy and make sure that their operations looked legitimate.”

Once back in South Africa with her daughter (her husband had to return to China where he works), she was informed that her son would be placed in Myanmar to teach English. John full of enthusiasm flew to Yangon in Myanmar from Thailand.

The school was privately owned and operated by Ms Chan a Chinese/Burmese lady who acted as the School Principal. She recruited approximately 100 pupils for John and the other foreigners to teach. John was sent to a school in Mawlamyine which was a six hour bus journey from Yangon.

With Covid-19 becoming more prevalent the family continuously enquired from John on the status of the virus in Myanmar. Initially the school remained operating but there were less pupils. Some overseas teachers had already left and later the school was shut down altogether. Two teachers plus John remained.

With South Africa announcing on March 23 2020 that it was going into first stage lockdown, Nicolette requested the South Africa embassy in Bangkok for assistance with the repatriation of her son.

In Myanmar there was local mistrust and fear that foreigners spread the coronavirus, the teachers were becoming increasingly isolated and shunned by all locals. In the end, the school principal moved them to Thanbyuzayat, 64 km south, where there was no Covid-19.

Nicolette told me, “One evening I met up with a family friend Helmut Amos and explained to him my situation that I didn’t know what to do but that I had decided to try to get John out of Myanmar where he was stuck so far away from Yangon with no transport options,” she recounted.

“The need to get John out of Myanmar was becoming increasingly urgent. I was uncomfortable and I noticed that John started sounding less optimistic during our WhatsApp calls. Initially he was positive that the school would re-open and that they would return to teaching. Often when I called him the township where he was staying was having a power failure for hours on end,” Nicolette recalls.

After days, weeks and months of phone calls and email exchanges it was looking impossible to get John home until a chance conversation, showed a possible way forward. It was good fortune that during the conversation with her friend Helmut, he suggested making contact with mutual friend Reni Hildenbrand, owner of Hildenbrand Wine & Olive Estate in South Africa. Reni knew Bangkok Skål member Allan Riddell.

With Allan’s global travel and tourism association contacts and his links with the South African Thai Chamber of Commerce. Along with Mr Graham Macdonald, Honorary Advisor to the SATCC chamber, they all played an important part to coordinate all the arrangements in the complex plan.

In Myanmar the country was becoming increasingly locked down due to Covid-19, internal movements from one province to the next, were difficult, with ever increasing reams of paperwork required by the authorities. Getting John to Yangon without delay was imperative. With no direct flights to South Africa and all borders to neighbouring countries closed, the only way out was via the international airport in Myanmar’s capital.

With the help of all concerned and in particularly John’s mum Nicolette, arrangements were finally made after much work, to fly John out.

Flying first with Korean Air, Yangon to Incheon then on to Amsterdam.

In South Africa Nicolette contacted TTS KLM Repatriation. The agency was helpful and informed her she could book with two separate tickets and that the time period for connecting flights may not extend longer than 48 hours. She checked and there was a KLM repatriation fight to Cape Town that would connect with the Korean Air flights coming from Yangon- Incheon – Amsterdam. “There was hope and I had faith,” she said.

At the same time Nicolette instructed John to find out how and what mode of transport he could get from Thanbyuzayat to Yangon. He was told that buses operated for locals only but was also informed that with new legislation that there were no taxis or buses (even for locals) permitted to drive to Yangon due to the lockdown.

John was also told that a town between Thanbyuzayat and Yangon had gone into lockdown and that he would need to go into quarantine for five days to get through there to Yangon.

On September 18 John received a very important letter of Laissez Passer.

On Saturday September 19 John went to a Health Centre for a covid test. It cost US$200. On Sunday, September 20 the results and certificate were released and John was negative. A vital part of the paperwork trail had been completed. Now things moved fast.

They would first take a taxi before changing vehicles to an ambulance. The purpose of the ambulance was to increase the chances to get him through the quarantine roadblocks and to get to his flight on time!

It was subterfuge but it worked!

The confident former military driver bluffed his way in the ambulance and was not stopped and was allowed safe passage with his ‘sick’ patient without delay.

Skål International Bangkok’s helps to repatriate a mother and her teacher son | News by Thaiger

Home on South African soil – John on his arrival at Cape Town International Airport

John flew on September 21 at 21:00 from Yangon to Seoul/Incheon arriving September 22 at 5:25.

John would then fly from Seoul/ Incheon 14:05 to Amsterdam arriving 18:55 and later depart Amsterdam on September 22 at 21:50 arriving home in South Africa landing at Cape Town September 23 at 9:20.

Nicolette’s husband Villiers, (still in lockdown in China), offering long distance emotional support, told his wife that she only had 2 priorities, one to get John out of Myanmar and the second – to get John out of Myanmar. She did!

by Andrew Wood, SKÅL International

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Investigations of Covid-19 infected elite rule-breakers demanded

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Investigations of Covid-19 infected elite rule-breakers demanded | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: VIP clubs and their wealthy customers may have violated rules and led to Covid-19 outbreaks

Investigations are being demanded by a corruption watchdog into Thai politicians infected with Covid-19 after allegedly attending venues in the Thong Lor entertainment venues in Bangkok that have now emerged as the ground zero for the Coronavirus third wave in the Kingdom.

The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand are being asked to investigate the latest Covid-19 outbreak, noting in a Facebook post that the second wave was also linked to illegal activities, spreading through illegal migrants and other visiting gambling dens. This third wave is also angering those who see the wealthy elite and powerful politicians frequenting high-end bars and not following Covid-19 safety protocols.

Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of ACT argues that the ministers visiting these clubs did not behave “ethically”, and it’s part of a larger problem. He is pushing for legal action against not only club owners, but against police, public health officials, and even the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration for failing to enforce laws to protect against Covid-19.

Investigations into whether the code of ethics had been violated were requested to be carried out by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Ombudsman and the committee on ethical standards.

As entertainment venues have been ordered closed for at least 2 weeks, Mana proposes that along with restrictions, a hotline to report rule-breakers should be set up, and all people should be held to the same standard without exception.

The president of the Rural Doctors Society agreed, saying that especially important is the need for Covid-19 infected public officials to disclose their personal timelines to reassure the public and assist in contract tracing. It is feared that little or no action will be taken to investigate and punish powerful rulebreakers.

One controversial infection was that of Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, rumoured to be infected from Thong Lor nightclubs, but later shown to be in another province at the time. The entertainment venue outbreak was not completely innocent though, as details emerged that the minister’s infection was in fact passed to him via an aide who had frequented clubs in Thong Lor.

Chuvit Kamolvisit, a former massage parlour owner turned activist, has been outspoken on the issue, calling for investigations into high-society VIP clubs like Krystal Club and Emerald Club, who allegedly flaunted restrictions and ended up with dozens of Covid-19 infected staff members.

The Metropolitan Police Bureau chief had said that legal action was pending against these clubs for the virus spreading.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thailand Covid UPDATE: 967 new infections announced Sunday

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Thailand Covid UPDATE: 967 new infections announced Sunday | Thaiger
PHOTO: Thais start their Songkran travel - Pinoy Thaiyo

Thailand’s CCSA have announced 967 new Covid-19 infections today during their daily briefings. The number is another day of gradual increases that has grown. Thailand’s national total has now reached 32,625 total infections, of which 28,214 people have fully recovered. 4,314 people are currently under hospital supervision in Thailand following positive Covid tests.

9 new cases were revealed in Phuket today, but aren’t included in today’s national tally.

The CCSA also reported that 485,957 people have now received their first vaccine – 69,439 are now fully vaccinated. The daily average of new people being vaccinated over the past month has grown from around 10,000 people each day to 15,556 yesterday.

Around the world, both the daily infection rates and death rates from Covid-19 are increasing again after dipping at the start of 2021.

All the latest news from Thailand related to Covid-19 HERE.

Thailand Covid UPDATE: 967 new infections announced Sunday | News by Thaiger

Total cases for Thailand from Worldometers.info…

Thailand Covid UPDATE: 967 new infections announced Sunday | News by ThaigerWorld totals as of Sunday, April 11 from Worldometers.info

Thailand Covid UPDATE: 967 new infections announced Sunday | News by ThaigerThailand Covid UPDATE: 967 new infections announced Sunday | News by Thaiger

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Pattaya police warn restaurants not to act like bars

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Pattaya police warn restaurants not to act like bars | Thaiger
PHOTO: Police warn selling chips at your bar doesn't make you a restaurant

Following the closure of entertainment venues in 41 provinces for 2 weeks, Pattaya police warn that bars acting as restaurants and restaurants acting as bars would be punished. In Pattaya, police patrolled heavily to check in on venues and remind them of the penalties and fines for breaking shut-down rules. The current outbreak of Covid-19 throughout Thailand has been disproportionately spread by nightclubs and bars, including many pubs in Chon Buri and Bangkok. While the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration has called for a 2-week closure, the Chon Buri edict is open-dated, expected to be in effect until conditions improve. One warning Pattaya police stressed was that, while restaurants are allowed to stay open and sell alcohol, abusing that exception will be punished.

In previous entertainment venue shutdowns during the pandemic, many businesses took advantage of the restaurant loophole. As there’s no exact wording in the law saying people have to order food and not only drinks, many restaurants served drinks and allowed dancing and socializing without any social distancing. Some bars were even seen hastily adding a quick food menu of easy snacks in an attempt to skirt the rules and operate as a restaurant serving alcohol. But this time Pattaya police warn that restaurants using these sneaky tricks won’t be tolerated. Even businesses with multi licenses will need to take measures to make it clear they are not operating more like a bar as police will have the discretion to make judgement calls on venues.

The 2-week closure of entertainment venues went into effect yesterday and banquet halls, movie theatres, saunas and soapies are all closed. Restaurants are allowed to stay open, but with a 10 pm curfew on dine-in services. Takeaway food is allowed after 10 pm until 5 in the morning. Officials hope this shutdown on Covid-19 spreading entertainment venues will slow the outbreak enough to avoid the dreaded full lockdowns, travel restrictions, and domestic quarantines.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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