What’s Behind Thailand’s Coronavirus Success?

Just a brief Axios-style discussion today. I wanted to opine, but certainly not at any considerable length given that I am not an epidemiologist and have no expertise in public health, about what is behind Thailand’s coronavirus success.

  • Thailand has undeniably so far been one of the more successful nations in the world at combating the coronavirus.
    • This wasn’t a given. For a time, Thailand had the second highest number of cases globally, and Bangkok was the top destination for travelers from Wuhan, where the outbreak started.
    • But with only 3,000 cases and 57 deaths, Thailand compares favorably even to many neighbors, who overall have controlled the virus more successfully than in other regions.
    • So why has Thailand been so successful?
  • Perspective #1: say what you want about the economic measures, but the government had an effective public health response.
    • This is certainly the thinking of Palang Pracharath MP Paiboon Nititawan, who declared in parliament that “there would be many more deaths if not due to the management skills of Gen. Prayut.”
    • In mid-March, the government enacted a lockdown, closed borders and launched a curfew, among other measures.
    • Now, as almost all current new cases are imported from abroad, showing that local transmission has largely ceased, the government has eased the lockdown and shifted to a trace and test policy using QR codes.
  • Perspective #2: Thailand succeeded despite, not because of, the government.
    • Former ambassador James Wise noted that the government dithered considerably before imposing measures, including a long refusal to ban travel from China, and communicated unclearly.
      • It even flirted, rather incredibly, with cutting the healthcare budget.
    • Professor Zachary Abuza argues that Thailand’s preexisting public health system allowed it to weather the storm, with the Global Health Security Index showing that Thailand’s medical infrastructure was the most prepared in the region.
  • Perspective #3: Could it be some other factor?
    • A piece in the Asia Times made a series of conjectures about differentiating factors between East and West, including attitudes towards authority. (I do dislike “this is because of Confucius” takes.)
    • Maybe it was climate? Thailand is, after all, very hot, and the West is hoping for a summer respite. Perhaps it’s the heat, but the evidence is still mixed.
      • Regional variations also show that heat isn’t a deciding factor. Philippines has 15,000 cases, for example, despite a similarly tropical climate.
    • Or perhaps, as Ambassador Wise guessed, it could be the Thai greeting: less shaking hands, more wai.
  • The bottom line: In my view, it’s simply too early to tell what was truly behind Thailand’s success.
    • In the end, there are simply too many variables at play, and the government response may indeed not be the deciding factor.

(Cover image credits.)






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