Stickman Readers' Submissions April 13th, 2020

Should Covid-19 Lock-Down In Bangkok Be Relaxed Soon?

I hope you’re well under the circumstances. I suppose New Zealand is a much better place to be than Bangkok right now.

I have noticed that English newspapers in Thailand and expats that I talk to are all focused on limiting the spread of the virus. I hear no one looking ahead at some sort of normalization of the situation.

He Clinic Bangkok

I wonder if I am the only one who thinks that the government should start to relax after next week? Here is my interpretation of the data that I see reported in the media:

  • The number of reported Covid-related deaths is currently about 1 or 2 per day. To put this into perspective, road deaths in Thailand in normal situations are reported to be about 45 per day. Some argue that the actual number of Covid deaths must be higher, because of limited testing, but I doubt it will be much higher.
  • An important argument for most countries to apply strict measures is to avoid not having enough hospital beds, particularly intensive care beds. I don’t read anything about this anymore recently, but previously the government said there is no worry about this. Given that the number of reported active cases is very stable over the past 2 weeks, I expect there is still no issue with availability of hospital beds.
  • Some argue that due to limited testing the actual number of infected people will be much higher. Sure, that is true. But apparently those cases are not serious enough to be admitted to hospital, and therefore not worth destroying the economy over. Assuming that the amount of testing has been fairly stable, the government data shows that the spread is well under control. Given that there is a lag between lockdown measures and impact on data of about 2 weeks, it seems reasonable to me to expect that the number of reported cases will go down (further) in the coming week(s).

I think the Thai government has done quite well until now, although I think it is quite harsh to tell 10,000 – 15,000 Thais abroad who want to come home to simply stay where they are. They have stepped up measures proportionally as the number of infections increased. This has prevented exponential growth. The number of deaths is very low and in the last few days there have been more people who have recovered than new active cases reported. Skeptics will say that government numbers cannot be trusted, but I think it is impossible to hide a much higher number of deaths and intensive care patients.

However, the measures that have been taken clearly must have a massive impact on the general population’s well-being. I don’t have to tell you that most Thais make ends meet financially month-to-month, if not day-by-day. Although I cannot really judge their situation from my condo in downtown Bangkok, it is not hard to imagine that millions and millions must already be struggling to feed themselves and their family every day.

CBD bangkok

The economy is basically a chain of large and small businesses. When more and more start to fall over, you will see a domino effect. I think this can escalate just as exponentially as a virus can. Given the low death-rate and the low number of active cases, is it justified to choke the economy to death? I strongly think it is not.

Like I mentioned, I think the current measures are justified to get control of the situation. Songkran is a dangerous week to relax measures, so I understand why they have extended the current lockdown measures until after next week. But I strongly feel it would be very foolish to keep things as they are until the end of April and not to start relaxing the measures after next week. The immense cost to society are not in proportion to the few lives that are saved (mostly of people with a very low life expectancy). Yet, I cannot find any suggestions from the government or journalists in the media like Bangkok Post or Khao Sod that it is time to make plans for a slow move towards normalization.

I just saw an article in the Bangkok Post today (13/4) titled “Asean cases a worry, admit health chiefs”. In it the claim is made by a Thai health official that “Despite the declining number of novel coronavirus infections, Thailand cannot lower its guard because case numbers in neighbouring countries are still high”.

Further on, infection numbers of a few countries are cited. There are a number of things wrong here:

wonderland clinic
  • Looking at absolute numbers does not help. It is all about trends. There is no value in citing that country X had 100 new infections yesterday. It only means something in relation to the numbers of previous days.
  • Every country is different in population size and level of testing. Therefore, comparing the absolute numbers across countries has no diagnostic value.

I found data on the four countries that were mentioned:

  • Indonesia went from 9 to 19 deaths per day over the past 2 weeks. Philippines from 7 to 15. A gradual increase for both, but given the population sizes, not that alarming.
  • Malaysia went from 3 to 4 and then down to 2 over the past 2 weeks. Singapore has less than 1 per average day.
  • The total daily deaths in these four countries has moved from 20 to 37 in the past 2 weeks.
  • The combined population size of the four countries is 400 million. Currently, 1 in 10 million of these people are dying per day.

Surely, the spread of the virus should be closely monitored and repressive measures should be maintained to a level that it keeps the spread in check. But killing economies because of a daily death rate of 1 in 10 million people (who are usually already quite sick anyway) seems a bit over the top, doesn’t it?

To maintain a strict lockdown in Thailand because of the supposed huge threat in these four countries, while there is no international travel, is insane in my opinion. If the Thai government wants to maintain the tight measures, let’s ask them to come up with a better excuse.

I am hoping that they are already planning a gradual relaxation of lockdown measures after this week, but are tight-lipped to not send a signal to the public that they can already return to normal behavior. But I am afraid this is not the case and there is just something to lockdowns that is very appealing to military governments.

Stick‘s thoughts:

This was written as an email to me but as I thought it was both interesting and timely I asked the fellow if it would be ok to publish on the site as a reader’s submission and he agreed.

I am certainly in the camp that feels it is best to get things open and back to normal as soon as possible. I know there are health concerns but at the same time, I think any curfew or lock-down would have been much better managed if the goal was protecting those at high risk, and not a blanket thrown over everyone which has brought the economy to its knees.

nana plaza