How Thailand controlled the spread of Covid-19
With dozens of countries struggling to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, two celebrated economists believe Thailand was saved from the worst effects by its commitment to a robust public health system, a network of national volunteers, the widespread use of masks, and a healthy dose of luck.
“It was predicted that Thailand would be the third-worst-affected country after China and Hong Kong, so it has been quite remarkable that there have been so few deaths,” said Chris Baker and his colleague Pasuk Phongpaichit in a talk on YouTube.
The pair of award-winning economists have authored several books that explain Thailand to international audiences with uncommon clarity and entertaining insights, including “Thailand Boom and Bust,” “Thailand’s Crisis,” and “Thailand Economy and Politics.”
Among the most critical factors in the Kingdom’s effective response, Pasuk and Baker said, were Thailand’s commitment to a robust public health system and the medical community’s experience in dealing with SARS in 2003.
“Because of their experience with SARS, the doctors started treating bad cases of coronavirus with treatments they had developed for SARS, including anti-retrovirals that had been developed for HIV/AIDS. They didn’t know why they worked, but they did, and so they kept using them,” Baker said.
Also, a nationwide network of one million health volunteers assisted with contact tracing, monitoring cases in villages, and providing health information to people. “That’s very important for how coronavirus was treated here,” Baker said.
He also credited the Ministry of Public Health and the medical community with being transparent about the situation. That gained them the confidence and cooperation of the public when they needed to take restrictive measures.
The Kingdom also benefitted from some bits of luck that were initially bad but turned out to be good, said Baker. Thailand had been experiencing a dust and haze problem before the virus arrived. “So lots of people were already wearing masks,” he said. Baker added that “it’s pretty clear that this virus does not like heat and dryness.” When the virus did reach Thailand, the Kingdom was in the midst of a record drought.
Looking forward, Pasuk said that the “Covid crisis represents an opportunity to review the national strategy and adjust it towards more decentralization and sustainability.”
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed the national planning agency and economic ministers to re-examine the strategy and make any necessary modifications to take into account pandemics and other potential threats.
“Some of us have already been arguing that we need to cultivate more local sources of growth, reform the taxation and logistics systems, and give more authority to local governments for planning. Also, we need to improve social welfare programs and education reforms,” Pasuk said.
Photo courtesy of https://multimedia.anamai.moph.go.th/