Cancelling the public holidays is an obvious move to try to stem the outpouring of Thais who live and work in Bangkok from returning to their family homes in the provinces over the traditional holidays. Bangkok’s estimated resident population ranges from the 8.2 million recognised in the 2010 national census (yes, we’re due another national census this year) to some 10.2mn by more recent estimates, but more tellingly is that the estimated daytime population ranges up to as high as 15mn people.
As many as some 6mn people on the move from a concentrated area where the COVID-19 coronavirus has been confirmed is a sincere health risk, especially when people may not even be aware that they are carrying the virus in their first 14 days of infection. More so is that the annual journey home over Songkran is for working Thais to visit their parents and grandparents, the very people most at risk from the virus.
We all understand that all the coronavirus countermeasures that have been implemented by the government so far aim to flatten the virus infection curve, and thus try to avoid the healthcare system being overwhelmed and hopefully prevent any unnecessary deaths. No one wants to to be held responsible for unleashing a 21st century biological version of Logan’s Run for the elderly.
The measures also aim to mitigate the economic impact of the disease, yet just the policies implemented so far in the hope of preventing the disease from spreading seem to be doing that all by themselves.
It would be nice for Thai officials to at least publicly admit this is the aim. The goal cannot be the impossible protection from the disease. It is a highly contagious virus that spreads like wildfire. It will eventually reach throughout the country, just like everywhere else in the world. To wit, the race is on to create a vaccine for the virus. We only hope that by the time a vaccine arrives COVID-19 has not already evolved into COVID-20 or 21.
Meanwhile, without rolling out domestic travel bans the likes of which Communist states would be proud of, Songkran will go ahead. Many good Thais will do their best to heed the advice to beware spreading the disease, but people will travel, they will celebrate. Officials can call it what they want, but Songkran will survive.