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Coronavirus Causes Panic and Anger in Thailand

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Public anger is increasing against Thailand's
military-backed government for its handling of Wuhan's deadly
coronavirus, because Bangkok's toll is among the biggest number of
infected people outside China.

"The country is now in the stage of disease transmission," said
Disease Control Department director-general Dr. Tanarak Plipat in a
warning for tourists and others.

"Since they are staying in places full of foreign visitors, tourists
are likely to be in areas of disease transmission."

As for "the degree of risk concerning the disease in Thailand, chances
of contraction remain low in this country," Dr. Tanarak said.

Twenty-five people in Bangkok had confirmed virus infections as of
February 6, the Health Ministry said.

Twenty-one of them, including a Thai woman, arrived in Bangkok from
Wuhan, the city in China believed to be the source of the outbreak of
the mysterious disease.

No coronavirus deaths were reported in Thailand, and some quarantined
victims recovered and were released.

A Thai couple reportedly contracted infections in Japan before coming
home to Thailand.

Two Thai taxi drivers were quarantined after transporting infected
Chinese tourists to hospitals in Bangkok. They became the first
confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus in Thailand.

One driver, age 50, recovered and was released.

"I don't have any bad feelings towards the [Chinese] tourists after
being infected with the disease," the unnamed driver told reporters.

"I want to give my support to the people of Wuhan to keep fighting
against the disease. I am sure that they can overcome it, like I have

An additional 380 people with possible symptoms awaited tests, Health
Ministry doctors said.

“I am very worried,” Paul Risley, an American consultant to the United
Nations who has lived in Bangkok for nearly 15 years, said in an

“My children are 9 and 6,” he said. “They attend an international
school with perhaps 10% Chinese national students. Starting last week,
the school has instituted temperature takings of all students in the
morning, requested some students to go to a hospital for a medical
note, and gave a questionnaire to parents asking if they had been in
mainland China recently and where.

“This is a big learning experience, especially for my 6-year-old,
about the importance of washing hands all day long. He and his best
friend call it the ‘Verona Virus.’ And today his friend was home, sick
with just a cold. His friend’s mother and I laugh, nervously, and hope
this is only a cold,” Mr. Risley said.

The world’s biggest Chinatown is in Bangkok. The 200-year-old
neighborhood was packed last week with Chinese, local Thais, foreign
nationals and international tourists visiting outdoor restaurants,
food markets, temples and shops.

At the Grand Palace on January 30, staff used hand-held digital
thermometers to scan the foreheads of more than a dozen
white-uniformed royal guards outdoors, before they ceremoniously
escorted Princess Sirindhorn to a palace entrance.

Inside the entranceway about 200 guests, including foreign ambassadors
and international medical officials, were scanned by a tripod-mounted
thermometer before attending a banquet with the princess.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was invited to the banquet but did
not attend because he suffered a slight fever and took the day off.

"I’m taking sick leave today because of a little cold as per doctor’s
orders," Mr. Prayuth said on Twitter on January 30.

A recently created, trending Twitter hashtag #PrayforPrayuth quickly
filled up with tens of thousands of tweets about the ill prime
minister mixing support, harsh satire, and graphic death wishes.

Mr. Prayuth returned to work the next day saying he was fine.

The Twitter hashtag #crapgovernment also trended during the weekend,
with thousands of people tweeting complaints about the Thai
government’s uncoordinated response to the outbreak, mixed among
unrelated posts about other countries' governments.

"My company is checking customers' body temperature and handing out
surgical face masks at the pier," a Phang Nga Island tourism official

Phang Nga Island is one of Thailand's most popular destinations for
international backpackers who binge on drugs and drinks during "Full
Moon parties" on its tropical Andaman Sea beaches.

Face masks and hand sanitizer products are now difficult to find
because most shops were having problems getting resupplied.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said 138 Thais who had been
trapped in Wuhan's urban lockdown were flown to Bangkok on February 4
and quarantined.

Initial reports from Wuhan indicated that the coronavirus may have
been transmitted through snake meat to humans in a “wet market,” which
sells edible live animals and carcasses, including wildlife.

Bangkok and other Thai cities have similar roofed, open-air markets.
Fish is often laid on blocks of ice near caged poultry, while butchers
chop meat amid gutters and cement floors wet with blood and slivers of
discarded animal flesh and fat.

Unlike China, creatures such as bats, snakes and dogs are not usually
available to eat in Thailand.

“Airports, mass public transport services, shopping malls and hotels,
as well as public areas, are stepping up hygiene measures, including
extra cleaning and disinfection,” the Thai government announced.

“Apart from five international airports, the screening of all
passengers arriving from risk areas has also been carried out at
border areas and various ports in Thailand.”

At least 20,000 travelers from Wuhan flew directly to Thailand in
January, according to Flight Master, a travel site in China. Most
have reportedly returned to China.

Last year, nearly 11 million people traveled from China to Thailand —
the most visitors from any nation.

Tourism produces about 22% of Thailand's gross domestic product and
employs six million people, the World Travel and Tourism Council

Prime Minister Prayuth, who is also defense minister, ordered the
army, navy and air force to send mobile medical units to Thailand's
international airports, including two in Bangkok. They will assist
screening incoming passengers from China.

A pier near Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River, which flows through the
capital, has been turned into a medical checkpoint to screen crews
arriving on ships from China via the Gulf of Thailand.

"Tourism business operators have been instructed to monitor for
symptoms shown by their customers. If any traveler has symptoms, such
as coughing, sneezing, or runny nose, after arriving from a risk area,
tourism business operators will seek medical care at the hospital
immediately and inform the doctor regarding the person’s history of
recent travel to China, or other risk areas," the government said.

Bangkok boasts high-quality medical services and hospitals that
attract patients from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Mr. Prayuth and Health Minister Anutin have faced criticism for their
lack of experience dealing with international medical emergencies,
even while expressing public assurances that everything is under

“Our country can control the situation well. We have had patients who
are being treated and are improving. Many have also gone home,” Mr.
Anutin told reporters.

“Detecting infected patients is a good sign because it shows that our
system is efficient,” he said.

"Attention Gen. Prayuth, please close #Thailand from Chinese tourists
now, better late than never," Sean Boonpracong wrote on his Twitter
site on January 24.

Mr. Boonpracong is an outspoken political analyst and was a National
Security Council official in a civilian government which Mr. Prayuth
ousted in a 2014 coup.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental
patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco

His online sites are:

© Scoop Media

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