Walking along lower Sukhumvit towards Asok and you can’t help but be appalled at the devastation the pandemic has brought on businesses and livelihoods. Hawker stalls, mom and pop shops, and small businesses that once fought for space along the pavement and sidewalks were no more.
Those that have been to some of Thailand’s busiest streets whether in Pattaya, Patong, Hua Hin, Patpong, Khaosan will all see similar, depressing sights.
More than the jobs and economic prospects lost, the Covid-19 pandemic has also taken away loved ones and colleagues, friends and families. Thousands have perished to the disease, thousands more are affected by the void they leave behind.
But after two years of devastation brought about by the coronavirus, after two years of lockdowns and mandatory orders from the government, it is time that we bring the pandemic to an end.
We are not America
Unlike the United States, which has seen hundreds of thousands of daily covid cases, Thailand has comparatively low numbers.
Also, unlike the United States where grown men get into fights over mask mandates and “freedom,” our country has largely followed public health guidelines issued by our health authorities.
Mask mandates, hand-cleaning, social distancing has largely been followed and it has kept more people safe than the Covid conspiracy nuts would have you believe.
Also unlike the United States, the majority of Thais do not question that vaccines save lives. Perhaps it is an effect of low supplies at the initial stage of the pandemic which has made vaccinations so sought after, perhaps it is the trust that Thais have in our public health sector, either way most Thais have gotten vaccinated and are scrambling to get boosters.
As a result, the number of fatalities has taken a nose dive over the last two months. Low and behold, vaccines (even the much criticized Sinovac vaccines) are working.
Sure there are anti-vaxxers in Thailand but the majority of us look at them the same way a sane person looks at conspiracy theory nuts who say that 5G towers are spreading Covid.
Time to end the pandemic
Yet even as Covid-19 numbers decrease and fatalities remain low, the economic devastation caused by the pandemic remains up front and present for all to see. Economic recovery is simply not happening at a fast enough pace to help the vast majority of people get back on their feet.
Sure, there are many factors that are not within our control in the bid for recovery. We cannot control tourism sentiment around the world or travel restrictions in other country that prevents the return of mass tourism.
We cannot control what variants will inevitably crop up next and spread throughout the world.
But what we can control is the restrictions that we place on ourselves and the handicaps which we have put in place that has stymied growth in the pursuit of “zero covid.”
What we have to accept now is that zero covid is unlikely to happen, this disease is here to stay.
The line of thought that the pandemic will only end when the number of new infections reaches zero must be forgotten. Risk can be mitigated but only to a negligible percentage, trying to reach zero covid will only kill the country in other ways.
The government has said that it wants to treat Covid-19 like an endemic disease. This is the right move.
Restrictions must be lifted, travel barriers must be removed. The economy and people’s livelihoods cannot go through another lockdown or to play this overly cautiously anymore.