Reopening poses a global dilemma

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced on June 16 that his government would reopen the country within 120 days, falling in October.

To show that he is a man of his word, the government announced last week the partial reopening of many businesses and activities. Yesterday, many sites, businesses and activities across the country began their journey on what remains a long way to a “new normal”.

The reopening was greeted with an encouraging sign. The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) yesterday reported 11,375 new infections, with 87 deaths – the first time in recent months that the death rate has fallen below triple digits.

Thailand and other tourism-dependent countries in the Southeast Asian region now face a dilemma. These nations have decided to leave their ‘zero-Covid’ policies behind and have begun to chart a course for life with the virus – despite warnings from experts that it may be too early to consider Covid-19, and its ability to mutate into newer, more deadly tensions, manageable.

In July, World Health Organization emergency chief Mike Ryan criticized how quickly some countries were preparing to reopen and suggested that low COVID-19 vaccination rates, combined with lifting restrictions, threatened a “toxic mixture” at a time when the WHO had just announced the “tragic milestone” of the four million deaths from Covid-19 recorded.

Reopening is easy, but more difficult is the question of its sustainability, which many countries in Southeast Asia are unlikely to achieve in the coming months: they must ask themselves whether they have administered enough vaccines to justify the “new normal” lifestyle.

As it struggles to increase jab rates, the Thai government is rushing to cut its mandatory quarantine in half to seven days for fully vaccinated visitors starting next month and to end any isolation period for those travelers in 10 key provinces, including Bangkok in November to help revive its tourism. dependent economy.

Tourism is finally awakening and travelers have started to make their trips. The problem is, they haven’t come to Thailand, but to other destinations that have fewer infections, more vaccination rates, and no quarantine or Covid restrictions.

For example, Malaysia, with more than 56% of its population having been fully vaccinated, reopened Langkawi – a group of 99 islands and the country’s main holiday destination – to domestic tourists last week. Singapore opened the country to tourists from Germany and Brunei last week, without a quarantine imposed.

The Thai government and others in this part of the world must exercise caution. The reality is that the infection rate in this region – with a few exceptions like the Singapore case – remains high, despite the encouraging downward trajectory.

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that the Philippines is still reporting nearly 20,000 cases per day, with Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia all hovering around the 10,000 to 15,000 case mark every 24 hours.

In many ways, Southeast Asia does little more than follow in the footsteps of Western countries that have already gone much further in easing restrictions and returning freedoms to their citizens. However, there is one essential difference. In most of these countries, most people have been vaccinated. This figure is currently 65% ​​in the UK and almost 70% in Canada.

This is more than double the proportion of people on the streets of Thailand (26%) who walk around after being backed up with a certificate to prove it, despite nearly 51.5 million Covid-19 vaccines having been administered in the kingdom between February 28. and September 29.

Concerns still abound over the types of vaccines offered by the government, with many parents being cautious about whether they consent to their offspring receiving vaccines made in China. Some studies show that Sinovac is considerably less effective than Pfizer and Moderna. Predictably, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed criticism of the country’s vaccine effectiveness as “prejudiced slander.”

Despite criticism and uncertainty surrounding the country’s vaccination plan, the Prayut government has no choice but to move towards a “new normal.” To be fair, it can be easy to criticize the regime on many points of politics or apparent fallibility, but one should not forget how interminably difficult it has been for almost every government in the world.

When cases increase governments are labeled as weak and when cases are low people notice their empty pockets much more vocally. So let’s hope that October marks the beginning of a safe and swift revitalization of the country for the benefit of all.

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