PORTLAND, Oregan — In late February 2021, Thailand’s government announced that its countrywide COVID-19 vaccination campaign would finally begin months after vaccination efforts were already underway elsewhere in the world. Despite these delays, Thailand’s overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a success. However, while the public health impacts of the disease are under control, the pandemic has dealt a significant blow to the Thai economy. With widespread job loss and wage cuts, thousands of Thais plunged into poverty due to COVID-19. Fortunately, COVID Thailand Aid is working to support those facing economic hardship.
Public Health Impact of COVID-19 in Thailand
Thailand was the first country outside of China to confirm the appearance of COVID-19 with its first reported case appearing on January 13, 2020. But, in spite of early infections, Thailand has mitigated the public health impacts of the pandemic thus far. As of March 18, 2021, Thailand has confirmed 27,494 total cases and only 89 deaths amid a population of almost 69 million people.
Though unique on a global scale, Thailand’s success is not unusual in the surrounding area. Thailand’s neighboring countries in the Mekong River Valley, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, have all reported very few infections and mortalities. While researchers are still looking for reasons why Thailand and the surrounding region have resisted the virus, part of Thailand’s success can be attributed to a swift government response and robust healthcare system.
On March 26, 2020, the Thai government announced a nationwide state of emergency and implemented several measures to combat the spread of the virus. Among these measures was a nationwide curfew, a moratorium on foreign arrivals entering the country and a ban on large gatherings.
The Thai government also made available free COVID-19 testing and treatment to those citizens who exhibited symptoms of the disease. Thailand’s healthcare response also included village health volunteers (VHVs). VHV’s are volunteers from rural villages who receive training in basic healthcare information and practices from the Thai Ministry of Health. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, VHV’s educated villagers about COVID-19 symptoms and health risks, thereby helping to mitigate infections among rural populations.
Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Thailand
For Thailand, the economic devastation of the pandemic is far greater than the toll on public health. This is because the very measures which drastically slowed the spread of the disease, including stringent lockdowns and the ban on tourism, also had the effect of shrinking the nation’s economy and threatening the livelihoods of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
In 2020, Thailand’s GDP decreased by between 5% and 8%. Exports from Thailand decreased by more than 17.6% and domestic sales decreased by 12% in the first quarter of 2020. Tourism, which usually accounts for 22% of the nation’s economy, came to a halt.
Between April and June 2020, 8.4 million people were at risk of unemployment and the average income for Thai families dropped by 11%. Urban areas, including the country’s capital, Bangkok, faced the worst economic impacts. In Bangkok, the average wage decreased by 23% and the rate of poverty increased from 0% to 3%. Overall, the number of people living in poverty in Thailand increased from 4.85 million to more than 6.7 million.
Thailand’s government was able to avoid the most dire economic consequences of the pandemic through a number of relief efforts. This included financial relief for businesses, increased unemployment benefits and payouts of 5,000 baht ($161) to informal Thai workers impacted by the pandemic. However, for those already in economic distress, these relief efforts are too little too late. Fortunately, Thai NGOs have taken it upon themselves to alleviate some of the hardship felt by the pandemic’s victims.
The Accomplishments of COVID Thailand Aid
One Thai organization that has been working to address the pandemic’s economic devastation is COVID Thailand Aid. This young NGO was started on March 17, 2020, by Natalie Bin Narkprasert. It began when Narkprasert, concerned for her grandmother’s well-being during the pandemic lockdown, began lending her assistance to Bangkok’s most vulnerable populations. From then on, it took only three months before Narkprasert had built a network of 490 volunteers and received more than three million baht ($97,000) in donations.
COVID Thailand Aid primarily devotes itself to delivering hot meals to Bangkok’s impoverished. According to its website, by December 2020, the organization helped more than 88,000 people. In an interview with the publication Hive Life, Narkprasert attributed COVID Thailand Aid’s achievements to her ability to create a network of resources and the generosity of her supporters. Narkprasert says that restaurateurs and chefs who volunteered their kitchens and expertise were vital in helping the organization feed as many people as possible.
Organizations to the Rescue
In her interview with Hive Life, Narkprasert talks about the personal struggles that she and her volunteers have suffered when faced with such a gigantic responsibility as feeding a city’s impoverished population. Hopefully, COVID Thailand Aid and other Thai NGOs will continue to receive volunteer and monetary support, even as vaccinations roll out, so that they can continue to tackle the country’s current crisis.
– Joseph Cavanagh