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Thailand News Today | New Year Covid style, Currency manipulation?, SCB scam | Dec 17

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Thailand News Today, coming from Phuket for the next few days.

Mosquito-borne virus spreads in Pattaya

If you’re in Pattaya, light the coils and get out the bug repellant. There’s been a report of an increase in chikungunya fever infections, that’s a mosquito-borne virus, similar to Dengue but can be quite painful and serious in some patients.

The city’s mayor is ordering public health and environment staff to control the spread.

“The virus comes from bites from infected mosquitoes. Patients will have high fever, discomfort and joint pain for, on average, about four days. In some cases patients will need hospitalisation.”

The city has hired pest control companies to fumigate suburbs and other areas at risk. Officials are also trying to reduce standing water at places like closed hotels and businesses that have fountains filled with water.

Police commander suggests people in Bangkok work at home once a week to reduce vehicle emissions

While the air quality in Bangkok has largely been linked to field crop burning in the North, the deputy commander of the Royal Thai Police, has come up with his own suggestions.

He’s suggesting that Bangkok workers work from home once a week to help keep pollution levels down.

He says that if people stay at home like they did during the lockdown, it could help reduce vehicle emissions and improve the city’s air quality. But many are dismissing his idea, saying Bangkok’s haze is mostly from crop burning in northern provinces.

This week, the air pollutant PM2.5 reached what’s considered “unhealthy” levels, exceeding the government’s safe threshold of 50 micrograms per cubic metre…. And exceeding it by up to 4 times.

The PM2.5 levels in Bangkok began to rise this month as farmers started burning sugar cane fields, getting ready to harvest new crops, coupled with the change over of the monsoon from the wet season south westerly airflow to the winter season north easterly airflow.

Thailand on US Treasury’s “watchlist” for suspected currency manipulation

Thailand is now on the United States Treasury’s “monitoring list” for suspected currency manipulation.

There has also been complaints of unfair policies to gain an advantage in international trade.

Vietnam and Switzerland were also labelled currency manipulators in a US Treasury’s recent report. Along with Thailand, the Treasury also added Taiwan and India to their watchlist this year which includes China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, Singapore and Malaysia.

This year, Thailand’s bilateral goods trade surplus with the US continued to grow, reaching $22 billion USD and exceeding the limit set by the US Treasury.

Siam Commercial Bank issues warning to customers after mobile app scam

Siam Commercial Bank has posted a statement on its Facebook page, urging customers to beware of phishing attempts via text message.

The warning comes after the arrest of 3 Chinese nationals accused of sending messages to SCB customers advising them to update their details. Customers were then taken to a fake platform and asked to input their ID card number, phone number, and an OTP code, among other details.

The scammers then used the info provided to access the victims’ accounts via the real SCB app, robbing millions of baht, which they then changed into cryptocurrency.

SCB says customers should never provide personal data in this manner, adding that the bank would never request this information via text message or social media messages.

Covid-19 task force to meet today for discussions on New Year festivities

The CCSA met today to discuss how New Year celebrations will be handled during the Cod era, with the possibility that they may be split into smaller events.

Officials are to consider a suggestion from PM Prayut Chan-o-cha that countdown gatherings be split into zones, with numbers limited. The PM says he’s concerned that large crowds would make it impossible to prevent a potential resurgence of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, a January 15 music concert in the northern province of Phetchabun has been cancelled, with the organiser saying he couldn’t guarantee Covid-19 prevention measures could be implemented in the event of a huge crowd turning up.

The Big Mountain Music Festival in the north-eastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima at the weekend, has also been cancelled.

Unsightly black cabling to be buried in bid to make Bangkok a smart city

From next year, Bangkok’s roads will be free of the ugly power and communication lines that hang overhead at dangerous angles But we seem to have heard all this before.

The plan requires the reorganisation of communication lines in inner Bangkok, namely in Pathum Wan and Bang Rak districts, including Lang Suan Road, at the top of Soi Saladaeng and Soi Convent.

The minister said this policy supports the goal of turning Bangkok into a smart metropolis and expects the project to be completed by August 2021.

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Thailand

Thai police arrest 3 people for allegedly tricking women into prostitution work overseas

Caitlin Ashworth

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Thai police arrest 3 people for allegedly tricking women into prostitution work overseas | The Thaiger
Stock photo via Google

Police arrested 3 people for allegedly recruiting Thai women to work overseas in the United Arab Emirates where they were forced into prostitution. The suspects allegedly told the women that they would work as masseuses, promising of good pay and assuring them that the work did not involve sex, according to the Department of Special Investigations deputy director general Supat Thamthanarug.

The women signed an agreement before travelling to the UAE, promising to pay back their travel expenses. Once they arrived, they went straight to a massage parlour in Dubai and their passports taken away. Some were taken to a brothel in Abu Dhabi, Supat says.

The suspects, whose names were withheld, were charged with colluding to violate anti-human trafficking regulations as well as detaining or depriving others of their freedom. Police say a suspect was arrested in Chon Buri and the other 2 were arrested in Ubon Ratchathani.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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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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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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