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Thai, Air Asia suspend flights to Wuhan because of Novel Coronavirus

Jack Burton

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Thai, Air Asia suspend flights to Wuhan because of Novel Coronavirus | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thai Airways and Thai Air Asia have separately suspended flights to the Chinese city of Wuhan - Tha PBS World
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Thai Airways and Thai Air Asia are both taking steps to prevent any possible spread of Novel Coronavirus pneumonia through tourist arrivals from Wuhan, the source of the outbreak. Thai Air Asia, which operates two daily flights to Wuhan from Bangkok and one from Phuket, suspended services yesterday. Meanwhile Malaysia-based Air Asia, has also suspended scheduled flights to and from Kota Kinabalu to Wuhan.

Passengers who have already booked these flights will be able to seek refunds before February 15, or change their bookings to other cities in China at no extra charge, depending on seat availability.

A spokesperson for Thai Airways says the national carrier has also adopted preventive measures to maintain confidence among passengers and Thais concerned about the spread of the virus beyond the shores of China. The measures include cabin cleanliness, thermal screening of passengers before boarding, observation of unusual symptoms of passengers while onboard and the use of face masks and gloves by cabin crew. AoT airports in Thailand are also routinely screening passengers as they disembark flights from China.

At the same time, China has introduced unprecedented measures to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, basically placing Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on lockdown. Steps include suspension of all public transport, long distance coaches and outbound traffic at airports and railway stations. Highways have also been sealed off.

“Without a special reason, city residents should not leave Wuhan,” the city’s special command centre to combat the virus said today. Hours later, state media in neighbouring Huanggang, a city of six million, announced it was also placing the city on lockdown. Residents are required to wear face masks in public and are not allowed to leave city without approval.

China’s National Health Commission announced today as of yesterday Thursday January 23, the number of patients infected with the Novel Coronavirus had risen to 830, while the death toll from the virus had risen to 25, according to Al Jazeera.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World | Al Jazeera

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Air Pollution

Stop the burn – Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste

The Thaiger

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Stop the burn – Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste | The Thaiger

Provincial governors in Thailand’s farming areas are being told to mitigate the burning off of agri-business waste by farmers in their provinces. The annual burn-offs are the biggest cause of the December to April air pollution in Bangkok and Central Thailand which lie in the wake of the light north-easterly breezes this time of the year. The burn-offs partly co-incide with the lighter annual north-easterly monsoons.

Lt-Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich, a spokesman for Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, has been one of the first to openly admit that the agri-fires are the common denominator in the capital’s annual smog woes. Over recent decades Bangkok’s Pollution Control department has trotted out any number of PR stunts, including water-spraying drones and asking temples to stop lighting josh sticks.

Now that spokesperson says that the accumulation of PM2.5 micron dust in the atmosphere… “mainly caused by outdoor burning of waste, especially on farms, combined with poor air circulation, has been posing a health risk for the past several days”.

Deputy PM Prawit has now ordered all provincial governors to send teams to warn farmers to stop the burning or face prosecution. It’s not the first order from the top directed at farmers trying to find cheap ways to get rid of agri-waste and prepare their plantations for the next crop. But, despite the ‘warnings’ in the past the practice has continued largely unenforced.

Thai farmers conduct the burn-off activities to reduce the amount of leftover materials – biowaste – like stalk tops, leaves and refuse left after the harvesting. Rice farmers also routinely burn rice stubble – the residual plant waste to prepare fields for the next season of crops.

Around 70-75% of Thailand’s sugar production is sent overseas and the country ranks second in exports just behind Brazil. It’s a big industry. The government also introduced a quota, distribution and price support system between growers and millers which has helped to artificially keep a ceiling on the export prices. Most of Thailand’s sugarcane plantations are in the Central and Northeast regions, some of them, evidenced by the fire maps, are less than 100 kilometres north of the capital.

But the Natural Resources and Environment Minister Woravut Silpaarcha is resorting to the old government narrative, repeating that officials at the Pollution Control Department will have to coordinate with the Interior Ministry and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to “intensify efforts to reduce emissions of PM2.5 dust from vehicles and factories”.

He’s also suggested that companies should allow employees to work from home to reduce the amount of vehicles on the city’s roads.

The Pollution Control Department is now estimating that the biomass burn-off contribution to the PM2.5 levels could vary between 24 – 38%, with the majority of it coming from sugarcane and rice burning. Most of the concentrations of agri-burning is around Northern Thailand and in the farmlands north of Bangkok. These areas also suffer considerably from the direct effects of the smoke. Fire maps also indicate that an even worse problem exists in northern Cambodia and north-west Myanmar where the burning carries on un-abated.

Stop the burn - Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste | News by The Thaiger

GRAPHICS: firms2.modaps

The Thaiger has waged a long campaign to provide fire maps and air-pollution readings over the past 3 years as evidence of the contribution of the agri-burning to Bangkok’s annual smog problem. But officials have kept beating the same drum, blaming factories, vehicle traffic and old diesel buses (which certainly need to be regulated as well but are not the main cause of the December to April haze and smog).

 

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Thailand

34.7% of Thai tourist businesses closed down

The Thaiger

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34.7% of Thai tourist businesses closed down | The Thaiger

“When the tourists start coming back it will be a very different holiday experience for them. Will it ever get back to the numbers before Covid? Never.”

A Tourism Authority of Thailand survey, conducted between January 10 – 12, indicates that more than a third of the country’s tourism-related businesses has already shut up shop and gone out of business. But industry players estimate the number is much higher. In regions almost solely relying on tourism for an income – Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Gulf and Andaman islands and touristy areas around Bangkok – up to 90% of the front-line tourism businesses have closed.

1,884 tourism businesses in Thailand were surveyed by the TAT about their current situations and how they were coping with the long-term closure of the Thai borders and the local restrictions on travel. Businesses covered areas like accommodation, travel agents, tour companies, restaurants, car and bike rentals and public transport businesses.

34.7% said they had already shut down or gone out of business.

That the TAT admit that more than a third of their front-line organisations have gone to the wall already is a big turn-around from the perennially optimistic tone and often cringe-worthy predictions. The TAT and the Thai Minister of Tourism and ports are now staring down the barrel of an industry, not only diminished, but changed forever after decades of stunning growth.

But speaking to several major tourism players during the week The Thaiger heard a much bleaker prediction from both foreign and Thai-owned tourism related businesses. One long-term hotel manager in the south, who is responsible for 11 hotels in Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak, says they’ve had to lay off almost all of their staff after “hanging in” over the past 9 months.

“We can no longer keep even a small number of rooms open without any hope of the borders opening up in the next few months. We’re finished. And even when they do start allowing tourists back into the country it would take us up to 6 months to get staff and maintenance ready again.”

“I would say that 90% of tourism-related businesses are gone. And gone forever. A lot were small family businesses who had taken the punt and invested their savings into the booming tourism business down here. They’ll never return.”

“When the tourists start coming back it will be a very different holiday experience for them. Will it ever get back to the numbers before Covid? Never. People will be looking for something different as the world travel industry reinvents itself.”

Last week Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister claimed that 10 million tourists would start arriving in Thailand from the middle of this year for the rest of 2021. Just 3 months ago he also predicted that domestic tourists would undertake some 10 million trips a month during the forthcoming high season (December to February).

In 2019 nearly 40 million overseas tourists arrived in Thailand. In the second half of 2019 there were just over 20 million tourists, twice the amount the Minister predicts will arrive from July to December this year.

This week’s prediction was that tourists, foreign and local, would be spending 1.2 Trillion baht on the battered tourist industry during 2021. The Minister failed to provide details about where these tourists would come from or where they would visit during their stays – stays that still have to begin with a 14 day mandatory quarantine.

The break out of a cluster of infections in the Samut Sakhon province, just south west of Bangkok, and now spread to the majority of other Thai provinces, on December 20, forced the government to restrict inter provincial travel. The not-quite-a-lockdown that followed severely dampened the travel plans of locals and foreigners inside Thailand over the traditional December/January holiday season. This week the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority loosened some of the earlier restrictions and allowed some formerly closed businesses to re-open.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thai people hope Covid-19 vaccine will help end pandemic – survey

The Thaiger

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Thai people hope Covid-19 vaccine will help end pandemic – survey | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Wikipedia

A Bangkok University poll indicates that around half of the Thai population are holding out hope that the Covid-19 vaccine will help end the pandemic. But the same respondents fear the vaccines’ side effects.

The poll was conducted on January 18-20 on 1,186 people nationwide, aged 18 and over. A bare majority, 50.1% say their jobs and incomes would be affected if the pandemic continues without the masses being inoculated. About 27% said the most worrisome effect of the continued pandemic would be getting infected by the virus. 15% said they would be most worried about travelling. The rest of respondents said the availability of necessities and food, expenses for protective gear, children’s education topped their lists of worries.

Asked if vaccines would help curb or end the pandemic in the country, 51.3% said they are moderately hopeful, with a smaller percentage, 32.8%, very hopeful, and almost 16% had little or no hope. When asked about their concerns surrounding vaccines, almost 40% chose side effects.

Almost 13% said they were concerned about new vaccines being needed to fight new Covid-19 variants, with the same amount worried they wouldn’t receive free vaccines. About 8% worried about receiving smuggled vaccines without the Food and Drugs Administration’s approval.

The biggest lessons Thais say they learned from the Covid-19 outbreak during the past year focused on the illegal entry of migrants – 40.2%. About 20% say they learned that hiding information could put other people at risk, while about 18% said recklessness on the part of some people could put the majority at risk.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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