Thailand reports no new COVID-19 cases despite being one of the first nations to get hit by the pandemic
As reported by the New York Times, Thailand on Thursday reported no new coronavirus infections or deaths, maintaining the total of 3,125 confirmed cases and 58 fatalities. It was the first time in nearly three weeks that no cases were reported and the 17th day without local transmission. All recent cases have been found in quarantine among Thais returning from abroad. No one knows exactly why Thailand has been spared.
Is it the social distancing rooted in Thai culture - the habit of greeting others with a wai, a prayer like motion, rather than a full embrace as we usually do- that has barred the thriving transmission of the coronavirus in the country? Did Thailand's early implementation of using face masks, combined with a strong health care system have blunted the virus's impact? Was it the outdoor lifestyle of many Thais or their comparatively low rates of established conditions? Is there a genetic component in which the immune systems of Thais and others in the Mekong River region are more resilient to the coronavirus? Or is it some transformation of all these factors that has shielded this country of 70 million people?
Despite the arrival of foreign visitors early in the year from countries gravely hit by the coronavirus, Thailand has documented fewer than 3,240 cases and 58 deaths. As of Thursday, there had been no cases of native spread for about seven weeks.
Thailand's low rate of contagion appears to be shared by other countries in the Mekong River basin. Vietnam has not recorded a single death and has registered about three months without a case of community transmission. Myanmar has confirmed 336 cases of the virus, Cambodia 166 and Laos just 19. Yunnan, the southwestern Chinese province through which the Mekong flows before meandering to Southeast Asia, had fewer than 190 cases. None are active as of now.
"I don't think it is about immunity or genetics alone," said Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, the COVID-19 spokesperson for Thailand's Ministry of Public Health while speaking to the New York Times. "It has to do with the culture. Thai people do not have body contact when we greet each other." Taweesin added, "This is how the countries in the Mekong region greet each other as well."
Although Thailand's hospitals have not been overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, the country's tourism-dependent economy has been battered. In April, Thailand banned almost all incoming flights amid the strict lockdown. Travellers stopped coming to Bangkok, once the world's most visited city. The International Monetary Fund estimates the Thai economy will shrink by at least 6.5 per cent this year. More than 8 million Thais may lose their jobs or income in 2020, the World Bank has said, in a nation already slashed by a wide gap between rich and poor.