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Trials and tribulations of returning to Thailand in the Covid era – a personal view

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Trials and tribulations of returning to Thailand in the Covid era – a personal view | Thaiger
PHOTO: Ah yes, the copious Thai paperwork. More about that in the next instalment.

A series of articles by David Jackson

Sunday morning and I am sitting inside my viewless window in a Bangkok Hotel waiting in anticipation for a trip down to reception where, after five lonely days, I get to experience my first brief contact with a human – a nurse who will presumably force a swab up my nose. Welcome to my quarantine experience.

Following all the issues relating to teaching via online platforms, my school in Bangkok decided to close early for the summer holiday and, in my naiveté, I assured the owner that following a short holiday I would be back in Thailand promptly in order to resume my duties. Like many I assumed that the economics of potential mass unemployment would force the Thai doors open facilitating my easy repatriation. How wrong was I?!

The process of re-entry is difficult, long and full of pitfalls and, despite having return tickets which were made invalid, the system has to begin with the Thai Embassy of the country where you wish to travel back to Thailand from. In my case it started as a 9am internet scramble as many hundreds of ‘farangs’ competed with Thai to obtain a place on the limited Thai Airways repatriation flights.

Quite rightly Thai citizens were given priority and, regrettably, the website could not cope with the volume of requests. Nevertheless, despite this technological setback, I was eventually allocated a place on a special Farang Express flight thanks in part to my boss and his diligence plus, presumably utilising the other forces in the name of pressure on the Ministry of the Interior from the numerous International Schools here in the kingdom.

I won’t go into the myriad of documents needed in order to actually be allowed on to the plane (that’s in my next story). Let’s just say that I had mixed emotions over the timing of this flight which fell at the end of a holiday period. So, I could feel my stress level beginning to build in anticipation of trying to obtain the 72 hour covid and doctor’s report when most of my country would have been in bank-holiday shutdown. Soon, pressure from Thai Airways to pay for the flight balanced with my inability to find a reasonably priced quarantine hotel forced a classic Catch-22 style problem in that I could not pay for one without the other. Luckily my kind boss came to the rescue and soon I had the flight, quarantine hotel plus report from the embassy confirming my work permit and thus meaning I would be able to return to Thailand.

Normally, the last few days of any trip back to the west is frantic with saying final goodbyes and packing, but not this year as the word frantic took on a new meaning. A trip to the city for two separate covid tests plus a postal one for good measure was augmented by an eventually successful attempt to find a doctor to certify me fit-to-fly. However, with no testing company guaranteeing the 72 hour turnaround for the covid report, my prudence to use three companies paid off as two of them provided my negative result and certificate within this tight timeframe.

One could feel the tension in the subsequent check-in queue and I certainly did sweat as the staff scrutinised my documentation like a stern headmaster looking for trouble… let us just say that the relief from the simple gesture of simply being handed my boarding pass was fantastic. After three long months overseas, full of despair, I was finally on my way to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and back to the school and children whom I love so much.

The flight was straightforward as the crew served the passengers whilst wrapped up in their PPE suits, masks and gloves. After a couple of films on the In Flight Entertainment system, and a snooze, I was soon awake preparing for our touchdown. However, the juxtaposition of the wonderful repatriation flight with what was about to happen was quite a shock to the jet-lagged system.

To be apprehensive of my arrival was the understatement of the year as I gawped at the enormity of what greeted myself and fellow red-eyed passengers. A column of official looking Thais stood just off of the aeroplane ramp guiding all 300 or so of us into the arrivals corridor where, after the mandatory half a kilometre walk, we were provided with a chair, each placed in a beautifully socially distanced array worthy of any geometry exam paper.

The stress continued as the paperwork was scrutinised, once by medical staff and then again in much closer detail. Some people were asked to show digital copies to confirm insurance which has to cover any covid issues to a value of US$100,000 minimum. Your name is subsequently found on a list and you are provided with a number to show to staff at the main door – the name of your quarantine hotel.

Following yet another check, it was time to join the standard immigration queue… yes, that’s it, the one that can be one hour long on a bad day as half of China seemingly arrive at the same time as you, but much easier at this time! In groups of ten you are taken to immigration and, to hear the noise of the date stamp landing on my passport was like music to my ears…yes…I had done it.

Scary…yes. Overkill… maybe. Safe… extremely. You are not getting into this country unless you run this gauntlet. Thailand wants, quite rightly, to keep covid out and its citizens safe.

So, collect your bags as usual and don’t even think about trying to use the ATM or visit a shop (they were all closed anyway). Welcome to your 14 days of social isolation and teetotal experience. My hotel representative collected me from the main exit from the airport where I was placed with another customer in a semi-isolated van for our journey through the Bangkok familiarity.

The check-in to my hotel was efficient and painless as it was done in the back of the van. You are then given a number and asked to find the room alone and just “make yourself at home”. And that is exactly what I am doing now as I write this article.

I wonder how boredom will affect me? How will I keep myself sane? Do I choose the farang or Thai food option? Will I pass the dreaded hotel covid test?

Find out more next time.

David Jackson in an English teacher and former headmaster from the UK working at St Mark’s International School, Bangkok.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sami

    Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    David….your article is great but has given me depression…this was a place I would love to travel and would just take the next flight to BKK whenever I had a few days off in order to visit the beautiful islands and enjoy the culture of the country…really very sad…I doubt things will ever return to what it used to be…even if a vaccine comes bearing in mind the mentality of the Thai givernment…

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 4:35 pm

      Thank God the “Thai government”, and the vast majority of the Thai people, take a more realistic view of the Covid-19 crisis than many Westerners both here and abroad.

      • Avatar

        Sami

        Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 7:22 pm

        Best of luck to you and your mentality…lets see for how long

    • Avatar

      Richard Thomson

      Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 5:26 pm

      The only way the Thai government can keep Covid19 out of Thailand is to permanently seal off the country from the outside world. Even when the worst of this pandemic dies down in other countries due to herd immunity, the Thai population will have built up no such immunity. Thailand is effectively in lockdown with the outside world just now but when it decides that the economic pain is too great and ends this lockdown, then it will have its pandemic. It will just be a year or two later than the rest of the world.

      • Avatar

        Issan John

        Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 7:21 pm

        “Herd immunity”.Unbelievable.

        Thailand is far from alone in closing its borders to the masses. Many countries in “the rest of the world” have done the same, for the same reasons: economies don’t boom when the populace are dying exponentially.

        In “a year or two” it’s probable there’ll be a vaccine – considerably more probable than “herd immunity” which has zero scientific basis.

        • Avatar

          Richard Thomson

          Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 1:32 pm

          Herd immunity is a well known concept which is why it was penned by the medical and scientific community in the first place. It’s why all pandemics die down eventually and if it didn’t exist viruses would simply go round and round unabated. Covid19 is a relatively mild virus and only those who have other health issues or compromised immune systems are seriously affected. Most healthy people are either asymptomatic or have relatively mild symptoms. This is no different from the hundreds of different flu viruses circulating the world. Nevertheless world governments have instigated lockdowns which have destroyed their country’s economies, destroyed millions of businesses and livelihoods and jobs. PS – just watching Thai TV. Four presenters in the studio. No masks, no social distancing ???

      • Avatar

        John Hope

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 4:58 am

        I have the same fear.
        Like New-Zealand after 100+ days locked down a large area again after 5 or so ‘cases’.
        And when their delayed wave hits, it will be the rest of the world that will declare those countries as deep red ironically…

      • Avatar

        John Hope

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 4:58 am

        I have the same fear.
        Like New-Zealand after 100+ days locked down a large area again after 5 or so ‘cases’.
        And when their delayed wave hits, it will be the rest of the world that will declare those countries as deep red ironically…

      • Avatar

        Terrence

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 5:35 am

        Immunity after infection or a vaccine is required for herd immunity – COVID-19 has neither of these.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_immunity

        • Avatar

          Don R

          Friday, September 11, 2020 at 1:36 pm

          “Immunity after infection or a vaccine is required for herd immunity – COVID-19 has neither of these.”

          Right, and yet the immune system has cleared the virus from millions of people. I guess the immune system is a conspiracy now…

          As for vaccines, existing flu vaccines are only about 40% effective. Not exactly the silver bullet you people seem to think it is.

      • Avatar

        Don R

        Friday, September 11, 2020 at 1:32 pm

        Yes, exactly. As the rest of the world develops immunity, Asian countries will find themselves more vulnerable than ever.

        There is, however, a real chance that the virus will continue to weaken naturally. Most viruses do weaken over the course of a pandemic. So by the time Thais are finally exposed in mass, it might not be as deadly.

        As for a vaccine, wealthy countries will get it first.

  2. Avatar

    Mahmoud

    Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    David

    I am going through this now kindly i have question how many months
    Was your insurance is it 06 months or for 1 year

    Thank you

  3. Avatar

    Nicholas Andrew Lorimer

    Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 11:14 pm

    I have insurance covering covid 19 and well in excess of the 100000 usd. I have a condo in Bangkok and a retirement Visa but cannot get back. I have been away since March. Fortunately I have obtained work in Malaysia since my retirement Visa has just expired. Could not renew at the thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur. When I can come back to Thailand may indeed be into spring or summer of 2021. What I once called home is slowly becoming less and I may plan to move on from Bangkok at somepoint. I have no thai wife or family to come in for. Had lived there for six years. Malaysia is becoming more my home now. I know already a few expats who are no longer looking at Thailand as their home now.

    • Avatar

      James

      Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 1:07 am

      Nicholas

      How can Thailand be any farangs home?

      You are all here on temporary visas. With a retirement visa you get a visa renewed every year.

      You could pay 1,000,000 Baht for a 20 year visa but there is no guarantee it will be honoured when governments change.

      Malaysia I understand give much longer visas and is more stable.

      • Avatar

        J West

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 1:04 pm

        Spot on James. Always have an exit strategy. Be prepared to walk away, regardless of residence status and be thankful for your G7 passport.

      • Avatar

        Nicholas Andrew Lorimer

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 5:41 pm

        Hey James. Totally agree with you. Since I had left Thailand to Malaysia at the beginning of march I had considered Bangkok my home for 6 years. Actually worked in Thailand from January 2009 to March 2016. Took on a condo in 2014. The covid 19 hit home as it were and I am ok here in Malaysia working at least to the end of the year. Initially did not have plan B precovid but now I do. Malaysia is a great place and I have many friends in both federal Malaysia and Sarawak. Thanks for your post.

  4. Avatar

    David Alan

    Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 3:52 am

    I bet more thai people will suffer and die from the economic damage caused by lockdowns than the actual virus could ever cause. Wake up sheeple.

  5. Avatar

    Luigi

    Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Thailand has the right to regulate the return of tourists as it pleases but these rules seem more like a deportation to me. As long as they are like this I don’t think many people will think of returning to Thai. Very high costs including permits, screening, stays (!?) In hotels of 14 days and a cold is enough to send you to Covid wards to suck the insurance. It is better to wait and hope that the Thai people can endure this isolation

  6. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    A dictator and his gang have convinced a country of peasants that there are being protected from a dangerous pandemic.
    58 deaths in a country of 70 million!
    How many deaths on the roads this last four day weekend?
    Something like 80, but does the dictator close the roads?
    This dictatorship have grabbed total power with a fraud.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid UPDATE: 1,767 new infections for Sunday, Bangkok and Chon Buri lead the way

Tim Newton

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Covid UPDATE: 1,767 new infections for Sunday, Bangkok and Chon Buri lead the way | Thaiger

1,767 new Covid infections were reported this morning, the highest ever daily report of new cases in Thailand. The spokesperson for the CCSA also reported that there were also 128 people in serious condition, with 28 people on ventilators.

608,521 people have now received at least their first dose of Covid vaccine.

Bangkok continues to lead the way in the new infections although the clusters are popping up right around the country now. Bangkok reported 347 new infections, Chon Buri with 229, Chiang Mai with 164, Nonthaburi, just north and west of Bangkok, 100, Prachuap Khiri Khan 66 and Samut Prakan 64. Locally, Phuket officials announced an additional 26 cases today, taking the tall in this latest cluster to 156 infections.

Only 2 cases today were imported, everyone else was living in Thailand.

The total number of infections in Thailand has now reached 42,352 people. There has been 2 additional deaths reported in the past 24 hours, taking that total to 101 dead from Covid-related disease. 13,569 people remain in state-monitored care.

Readers should also realise that the local provincial health officials report daily as well. Those totals don’t usually find their way into the national daily tally until the next day.

Some provinces are adding their own restrictions, including demanding negative Covid tests if you’ve arrived from a red zone – Krabi and Trat have announced this already. The only exceptions are if you’ve had full doses of Covid vaccine or have just come from quarantine. Chiang Rai has announced a ‘request’ that citizens stay at home for the next 14 days.

In Phuket, the closure of entertainment venues has been further extended to the start of May.

Expect more provinces to make similar announcements in the next few days.

If you are travelling, or planning to travel, it would be recommended to pre-load the Mor Chana app on your phones and fill out the information. This will help avoid some delays as you arrive in new provinces.

Covid UPDATE: 1,767 new infections for Sunday, Bangkok and Chon Buri lead the way | News by Thaiger

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Bangkok is now a red zone. Government gives people today to get back from Songkran break.

Tim Newton

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Bangkok is now a red zone. Government gives people today to get back from Songkran break. | Thaiger

…. before the next round of restrictions come into force at midnight tonight.

Bangkok and 17 other Thai provinces (there are 77 in total) are now declared maximum control areas. These “red zones” are the feature of the Thai Government’s new restrictions to get a grip on its rising Covid infection numbers since the start of April. The restrictions will last for at least 14 days.

From tonight, at midnight, some new restrictions are in force, not only in the red zones but every where else.

Think nightlife, think gatherings of more than 50 people, think restaurants. These are the area the government has generally targeted. The CCSA spokesperson yesterday, and the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, went out of their way to portray the new restrictions as NOT curfews and NOT lockdowns. But, if you live in a red zone province, including Bangkok, then the new set of restrictions are a lockdown in just about every sense without outright telling people to stay at home.

Everything will have to be closed from 11pm – 4am in the morning, including all convenience stores. Hope you’ve paid your Netflix subscription!

The government is also advising businesses in Bangkok, and other red zone provinces, to allow employees to work from home, or have adequate precautions in place if they need to work in the offices.

Unlike the last two outbreaks of Covid within Thailand, this cluster has emerged from the indulgences of Bangkok’s hi-sos, celebrity and look-at-me culture. The trendy clubs around Thong Lor and Ekkamai are the destination for people that want, or need, to be seen, including some politicians who have either ended up infected or knew someone in the club and pub scene and have had to self-isolate.

The late evening sojourns, with nary a care for masks or social distancing, small spaces, lots of people… it has proven the perfect breeding ground for a new Covid cluster.

Bangkok’s legendary shopping centres and community malls will have to shut their doors by 9pm, a situation now across the board for all Thai shopping centres including places like your local Tesco mall.

But convenience stores, supermarkets, community markets can stay open until 11pm.

At this stage people are being advised not to travel to Bangkok, or any other red zone province, for the next 2 week (after midnight tonight). The travel advisory isn’t an order at this stage, more of a hurry-up-and-get-back-from-your-holidays request.

Last weekend saw the mass exodus out of the city. The same return from the provinces is happening today and tomorrow. Even though the official Songkran holiday ran from Tuesday to Thursday this week, plenty of people have take the Mondays and Friday off last week to end up with an extended 9 day holiday. The government was hoping the longer Songkran break would be a boon for the shattered hospitality and tourism businesses. But last weekends sudden climb of new Covid infections caused some people to cancel or postpone their bookings.

The annual Songkran road toll, usually a national disgrace, was cut by over 50% this year due to the lack of traffic and people deciding to wait it out and catch up with their families later.

Thailand recorded 1,547 new infections around Thailand today, a slight drop from yesterdays’ 1,585 reported new cases. But the last 4 days have revealed the largest list of daily infections since the first case was detected in Thailand on January 13 last year, a 61 year old Chinese passenger on a flight from Wuhan to Suvarnabhumi – the first known case of the novel coronavirus outside of China.

2 leading police from the Thong Lor police station have already been sidelined into inactive posts, a face-saving measure to show the government were being pro-active in reacting to the sloppy enforcement (or non-existent enforcement) of Covid precautions in the district’s active nightlife. Officials are also tracking down the owners of the nightclubs and bars for potential prosecution, principally around Bangkok and in Phuket where parties, promoted and run by a group called ‘Kolour’ ended up becoming Covid spreader events.

Here’s a list of the red zone provinces.

1. Bangkok
2. Chiang Mai
3. Chon Buri
4. Samut Prakan
5. Prachuap Khiri Kan
6. Samut Sakhon
7. Pathum Thani
8. Nakhon Pathom
9. Phuket
10. Nakhon Ratchasima
11. Nonthaburi
12. Songkhla
13. Tak
14. Udon Thani
15. Suphanburi
16. Sa Kaeo
17. Rayong
18. Khon Kaen

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At-risk Social Security members can get free Covid tests from tomorrow in Bangkok

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At-risk Social Security members can get free Covid tests from tomorrow in Bangkok | Thaiger
Stock photo via Wikipedia
At-risk members of Thailand’s Social Security scheme can get free Covid-19 tests in Bangkok starting tomorrow. The Ministry of Labour will provide the tests, covering members under Sections 33, 39, and 40 of the Social Security Act. The programme will be held at the Bangkok Youth Centre (Thai-Japan) in Bangkok’s Din Daeng district.
The ministry expects to test up to 300 people per hour, with results to be received in 1 to 2 days. If anyone is found to be infected, they will be sent to hospitals under the Social Security scheme for free treatment. Currently, 81 hospitals are registered with the ministry, offering a total of over 1,000 beds.
At-risk Social Security members can get free Covid tests from tomorrow in Bangkok | News by Thaiger

Meanwhile, Thailand’s army is getting ready to deal with the influx of Covid-19 infections as its deputy spokeswoman says 2 more field hospitals are now in place. The hospitals are in Bangkok and Prachuap Khiri Khan to help ease the burden of hospitals.

Already, an army field hospital has been set up at the Thanarat military camp, in conjunction with the Fort Thanarat Hospital, to accommodate 69 Covid-19 patients from the Hua Hin Hospital and Rajamangala University of Technology’s field hospital in Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

The Army Welfare Department and Phramongkutklao Hospital have also set up a field hospital in Bangkok’s Dusit district to help treat 86 additional Covid patients. And, in Songkhla province, the Rattanapol military camp is preparing to set up a 100 bed field hospital. Soldiers in PPE suits were also instructed to disinfect the Hat Yai International Airport.

Today, the CCSA announced 1,582 new Covid infections across Thailand in the past 24 hours. The small increase on yesterdays total will provide the CCSA with the information they need for this afternoon’s scheduled meeting, chaired by the Thai PM. It is expected that they will announce new restrictions but are unlikely to go for total lockdowns of provinces or ‘at risk’ districts. The Thaiger will bring this information to you ASAP after it is announced.

Here is the list of the current 18 red zone provinces which could have their restrictions raised at this afternoon’s meeting of the CCSA. Read more HERE.

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