Over the past several days in Bangkok and Chonburi, there have been a rising number of Covid-19 cases, many linked to foreign nationals from Japan, most of who are now permanent residents of Thailand. Most of these cases seem to originally stem from nightlife venues, like bars and clubs, in Bangkok and then the close contacts, friends, and family of those infected.
Authorities have not released all the timelines and information on the cases and people involved yet, but so far it appears to be places frequented by foreign nationals, especially Japanese, in Si Racha.
Of course, many Thai nationals who were with the foreign nationals were also infected and it is very important to not place “blame” on any one group as the Covid-19 virus does not discriminate on race, color, culture, sex, or any other factor. It quite simply just looks for a human host to infect and does so.
However, what is of concern is that currently, Thailand is ramping up, especially in Phuket, to get the local population vaccinated in advance of the return of foreign tourists. Unfortunately, foreign residents are not currently able to register for a vaccine, should they choose, and the registration is only in the Thai language. Hospitals are telling foreigners, even those married, with children, or working in the tourism industry that they cannot yet register for a vaccine. True, Thai Authorities have said that foreigners will be vaccinated, if they choose, “eventually” however, have not given a clear timetable or answered many questions about the process as seen in the link above.
If there is one thing the recent breakout shows, it is that foreign nationals should be included and given the opportunity to vaccinate before the Phuket sandbox trial in July, otherwise an outbreak in the foreign community could derail many of the Thai government’s efforts to control the virus.
Let me be clear, nobody should be forced to take the vaccine if they don’t want to. I am well aware many people are not happy with the current choices of vaccines available in Thailand. I am well aware that supplies are currently very limited and am NOT saying to prioritize foreign nationals over a Thai citizen. However, there should be clear communication as to when foreign residents can register, how they do so, and if/when they can purchase a vaccine privately if they choose from a private hospital. With so many unanswered questions around foreigners and vaccines in general, clarity is needed, otherwise what you are seeing now in the Japanese foreigner community could be repeated in other foreign communities.
Many foreigners tend to hang out with other foreigners, especially those from the same country. They tend to frequent bars with friends and acquaintances from their own culture, backgrounds, and countries and this won’t change as international foreign tourism returns. If foreigners are not adequately protected (if they choose) from the Covid-19 virus when tourists are proposed to be let back into Thailand later this year, a breakout in the foreign community would be devastating, both for health, those infected, as well as the tourism image and face of Thailand. It’s also highly likely as foreign tourists return and go to places where foreign ex-pats gather and reside.
Let us also face the fact that many foreign Thai residents in Thailand are among the highest risk groups-over 60, many not in the best of health, and likely to be susceptible to the virus even if other groups, like Thai nationals, are protected.
Hopefully, the powers that be understand this and ensure that the opportunity is given for foreigners to be vaccinated before international tourists return if they wish.