Earlier this month Thai authorities made the difficult and historic decision to postpone Songkran due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus threat and fear of it spreading if hundreds of thousands of people went home to the rural Northern provinces. The decision was generally applauded and seen as a good one.
Today, a day after the announcement that non essential businesses in Bangkok were closing, joining entertainment businesses, until at least April 12th putting millions out of work, the exact same thing happened. Korat, Chiang Mai and others have joined Bangkok in this decision. (But not, at this time, Chonburi, which instead is looking at tighter restrictions but not a total closure)
This is not a shutdown or a lockdown, people are free to move about and essential services are open. Food vendors and markets remain open and the food supply is plentiful. Public transportation is open.
However, with Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket being home to millions combined who are transient workers, primarily from the rural Central and North East and some from Laos and Cambodia, many who work and live off of about ten dollars US a day and work not just paycheck to paycheck but day to day, they simply cannot wait three weeks for business to “possibly” open. They don’t have the funds for it and the Thai Government has not announced any sort of official financial support measures and aren’t expected to anytime soon.
In Pattaya alone it is estimated 80% percent of the population is transient by City Hall and do not actually come from or reside in Pattaya or Chonburi.
So, scenes of crowded bus stations and domestic air terminals were common on social media this morning and afternoon as tens of thousands rushed to get home, many fearing a potential future domestic travel restriction or even a lockdown of Bangkok, which is where the vast majority of the Covid19-Coronavirus cases have come from.
The fear is that some of these people, primarily young and healthy transient workers, may be carrying the virus and bring it to the rural provinces, which is also where the greatest portion of the nation’s elderly population live, many who watch the children of the workers who live and work in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and others.
Some provinces, like Buri Ram and Ubon, have set their own entry requirements and are requiring all those coming back to enter self isolation and go through a health screening.
Some, like Korat and Chiang Mai, announced today that they will be following the same standards as Bangkok in hopes of less people clustering together.
However, provincial decisions are left up to the Governor’s and no national order on domestic travel was made.
On social media, many commenters asked why travel wasn’t shut down, however, with little options, no money, and no government support the vast majority of people seemed to have not listened to the Thai Government’s earlier pleas when the announcement was made yesterday to stay in place and not return to the country. If the government had banned domestic travel, they risked trapping millions who have no money and funds and no options, which would have been a dangerous situation.
Transportation officials at Mochit Bus Terminal in Bangkok stated that all passengers were required to wear masks, high levels of sanitation had taken place and every precaution was made to ensure people were not sick.