By Barry Kenyon

Anything and everything about Thailand
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Brits could be banned from joining Thailand’s Sandbox program

By Barry Kenyon

July 3, 2021

Confusion reigned tonight on whether Brits and nationals of three other European countries will be banned from entering Phuket under the newly-launched Sandbox initiative for the popular Thai island whose cash-strapped economy is heavily dependent on international visitors.

On June 16, Thailand’s Department of Disease Control (DDC) published a list of 63 countries which, it said, presented a low or medium Covid-19 risk. Fully-vaccinated applicants from ONLY those countries were allowed to seek permission to join the Phuket Sandbox scheme which meant they escaped the unpopular isolation and quarantine in a government-approved hotel room for 15 nights.

Instead, the international tourists could enjoy the pleasures of Phuket more or less straightaway after new health tests, howbeit restricted to the island for the first two weeks of their vacation. After that period, and subject to ongoing Covid-19 clearance, they could travel to other provinces or fly to another country.

But the DDC issued a new list on July 1 which for the first time added the UK, France, Spain and Portugal to the “red” list of high-risk countries which appeared to preclude them from joining the Sandbox initiative in Phuket. At any rate in the eyes of the DDC. The Netherlands were graded “red” in the first DDC list and retain that status in the update.

At least three flights from UK are due to arrive in Phuket in coming days, although not all the passengers need necessarily be Sandboxers. The flights then proceed to Bangkok. The Sandboxers for these flights very likely had their certificates of entry issued by the Thai embassy in London on or before July 1, so there is absolutely no problem for them.

The Tourist Authority of Thailand has not confirmed the DDC list nor commented on possible future banning. Its website does refer positively to flights from London over the next few days which will carry Sandbox tourists. The Thai embassy in London at press time was still carrying a promotional advertisement for the Phuket Sandbox.

Clarification of the issues is awaited by many parties here and abroad. It could perhaps be argued that the DDC list of “red” or prohibited countries is advisory. Thailand does not formally operate a British-style traffic light sequence of destinations which carries the full force of the government’s mandate. Or the “red” countries could be dropped from the banned list as quickly as they appeared. “Stuff happens” as Donald Rumsfeld used to say.

Even if the nationals of the four countries were banned from applying for Sandbox entry to Phuket, they can still apply to come to Thailand by applying at their embassy for a visa or a permission to stay in the traditional way. The difference is that non-Sandboxers, whatever their destination in Thailand, are subject to the hotel room quarantine and isolation for 15 nights. That rule applies whether they are fully or half or not-at-all vaccinated.

Several other Thai tourist-orientated provinces and districts are hoping to join the Sandbox principle over the summer and into the autumn, provided that they can vaccinate at least 75 percent of their host populations in time. The last thing needed at the moment is prolonged uncertainty about who is welcome and who is not.

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Amazing Thailand’s latest vaccination rollout for foreigners

By Barry Kenyon

July 7, 2021

The latest plan to register some foreigners in Thailand for Covid-19 vaccination has now been uploaded by the Department of Disease Control (DDC) via the well-thumbed thailandintervac website. Expats over 60 or those suffering from a battery of serious diseases can pre-register at Phyathai 2 Hospital in Bangkok, but only between 9 am and noon on July 12 or any of the following four mornings. The vaccination period is promised as 19-30 July (no weekends) with only AstraZeneca and Sinovac on offer. No mention of cash or payment.

Or there’s another way according to the DDC. You can contact Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital, also in Bangkok, and attempt to pre-register with opening hours not revealed. The hospital’s current website does not appear to publicize this service, but it is open to web-gazers to send a message about any medical subject. You are told to expect an answer in 48 hours. According to the DDC, those pre-registering and then registering (there is a difference) will need to wait until they have some concrete information from whichever hospital you contacted. Perhaps even both.

The latest information rollout replaces at least a dozen previous schemes promoted by the Tourist Authority of Thailand, the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration and other government agencies. The first last April was an instruction to enroll with the Thais on the Mor Phrom app (Doctor is Ready), followed by various suggestions to turn up at your nearest vaccination center, or enlist with the medical facility that held your records, or write to the association representing private hospitals in the kingdom to request a form.

In mid-June the now withdrawn thailandintervac website took over responsibility, but was soon overwhelmed by the volume of inquiries and seems to have leaked private data as well. The most recent aborted enterprise was the invitation to register at any hospital from July 1. Sadly many hospitals had never heard of the scheme and those that were aware had sold out their 150 or 200 slots within the first hour.

Pattaya Mail tried to contact Phyathai 2 and Samitivej for confirmation of the latest strategy, but were told the details were still being worked on. One doctor did tell us that the vaccination of foreigners was just as important as that for Thais because “nobody is safe until all are safe.” Can’t argue with that.

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Pattaya update July 2021: not much to cheer about

By Barry Kenyon

July 10, 2021

Local authorities are doing their best to keep up spirits by lobbying the government for more vaccines to create some sort of herd immunity in Greater Pattaya. But the reality of a Pattaya “sandbox” holiday resort remains a distant prospect as Covid-19 infections continue to escalate nationally and locally.

The only queues in Pattaya these days are for charity food handouts or at the immigration bureau following a public holiday or heavy rains. Not to mention the occasional rush of foreigners after unfounded rumors on the internet that a vaccination walk-in center has just opened on a first-come first-served basis.

It’s true a few new businesses have sprung up. Pattaya Taco Bell, part of the chain specializing in Mexican-inspired food, seems not to be short of customers at the Royal Garden. The legalization of cannabis for specific purposes – not including recreational use – has led to some new initiatives. The Old Weed Man is just about the only shophouse open for business in an otherwise shuttered Walking Street.

English breakfast options remain surprisingly plentiful given the decline of the British presence. Facebook’s popular Breakfast Club Pattaya keeps most expat old-timers updated on a range of food-related subjects. All leading venues have their devoted flock of supporters, but a noteworthy addition is Kung’s, a tiny-fronted eatery on Soi Lengkee with an unusual choice of home-made sausages.

Bars and clubs remain padlocked and restaurants can’t serve alcohol. Well-publicized arrests at shebeens (illegal drinking clubs) have led to the arrest locally of over 250 people including about 70 foreigners. Jail sentences are not the order of the day right now, because of the risk of spreading infections in jails, but foreigners face a fine and mooted warnings about a future black listing. This being Thailand you never know.

The heroines of the evening scene are surely the massage parlour girls (mostly female) who sit night after night at the front of empty but illuminated premises. Customers are thin on the ground to say the least, but they remain more cheerful than could be expected. Two years ago, Pattaya sported 200 massage parlours of which about 80 remain open. For how much longer is anyone’s guess.

Mask-wearing by day is comprehensive. All major stores and malls have their own signing-in systems which usually involve a temperature test. However, the use of tracing apps seems to have been very largely abandoned and replaced by an optional manual signing of name and phone number which is hardly credible. By night, the use of masks is less universal whilst, on Jomtien’s four kilometer beach front road, the public drinking of alcohol in chatty groups is by no means unknown.

Locals and expats continually debate the future of Pattaya, the ex-fun city. The back-to-normal lobby says it’s just a question of waiting until the virus dies down and historical tourism will resume. The neo-Pattaya brigade predicts that the city will become a family resort for Asians with commercial sex both rarer and more expensive. A third group says Pattaya will simply lose any character and become part of Bangkok’s satellite metropolis. Actually, they might all be right.

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The question now is whether the Pattaya lockdown will actually work

By Barry Kenyon

July 22, 2021

With the screws tightened yet again on dark red zones, including Pattaya, public morale is at rock bottom. But it was always inevitable that golf courses, sports centers and beauty shops would be caught in the tentacles of a comprehensive lockdown. Once the CCSA, the top government health committee, had ordered the citizenry to stay home “unless absolutely necessary” then trips to enjoy yourself or to have your hair cut or to take a bus ride were doomed. Sooner or later.

So Pattaya is now a city of intense regulation, similar to the lockdown of April 2020. The one exception is alcohol which you can still buy in stores provided you drink it at home on your own. A provincial order earlier in the month banned booze-enjoyment if more than one person was present. Ambiguity still persists about walking along the beach, although that detail could be clarified by an order from the Pattaya mayor. The legislative problem is that the Pattaya beaches are currently home to hundreds of homeless people dependent on public charity.

Lockdowns certainly have their negative macro issues because mankind is a social animal needing to mix. Awesome restrictions assume that being at home is safer than being outside which most published research denies, that is unless you live alone. They also assume that everyone is at equal risk, whereas we know that children are more resistant than adults and that most people don’t end up in hospital or the mortuary.

The World Health Organization cautions that lockdowns should not be the primary mechanism of control because, at best, it delays contagion especially in countries with low vaccination rates. The massive number of failed businesses inevitably leads to financial intervention by the government, but the billions of cash borrowed has to be repaid unless money does grow on trees after all. The longer a lockdown lasts, the more likely the public will be to break the rules out of sheer frustration. The number of police raids on illegal Pattaya parties last year grew massively in the second half of the curfew period then in force.

That’s not to say that lockdowns are necessarily useless. International research from Oxford University recently argued that they should be taken with other interventions, such as mask-wearing, quarantine, social distancing and a ban on public gatherings, to restrict the spread of Covid-19, at any rate in some places. These measures are known as circuit breakers to interrupt the virus transmission cycle.

Taken together, circuit breakers can stem the transmission of coronavirus and disrupt infection peaks, thus allowing health services some breathing space to deal with other non-Covid related illnesses such as seasonal flu. So a short period of total lockdown can be useful, but must be accompanied by a massive vaccination program which is still in its early stages in Thailand in general and Pattaya in particular. Whilst a vaccinated population is not an immunity panacea, it is less likely to end up in hospital or on a mortuary slab.

In the meantime, Pattaya’s local population and expat community will likely suffer in silence, broken only by a lively commentary on social media. Some will turn to Zoom house-parties, virtual travel, new internet pen pals or even a major decluttering of their home. Others in more negative mode will seek refuge in solitary drinking sessions or online pornography. You might even find new talents you never knew about. William Shakespeare wrote his depressing play King Lear during a period of isolation in his room during a very nasty plague. Mind you, in the first version, that worthy royal did end up destitute and insane.

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The China-Wuhan padlock model is not the answer to Thailand’s health crisis

By Barry Kenyon

July 23, 2021

Thailand’s Department of Disease Control is not known for humorous remarks. So when its director this week warned that the Wuhan model – forcing people to remain in their homes 24/7 – could later be necessary in some Thai provinces, many of us blanched white.

There is no question that the Wuhan lockdown, best described as a padlockdown, was effective locally. On January 23, 2020, the Chinese authorities sent a message to all smartphones that nobody was allowed to enter or leave Wuhan, or its satellite cities. The population was ordered to stay at home unless an outside visit was approved by the “shequ,” or communist neighborhood committees, which are a surviving legacy of the Mao Zedong era.

It should be noted that there is no equivalent in Thailand of street committees. In Pattaya, for example, there are 300 or so Thai volunteer police currently assisting in curfew enforcement at night, but thousands would be needed to enforce a street-by-street lockdown. It is also far from clear that the Thai population would endure the circling of condo blocks and estates with barbed-wire fences as happened in Wuhan. The Bangkok military-backed government may look authoritarian to its critics here, but they are beginners compared with Beijing.

In a stimulating article in the Bangkok Post, Chartchai Parasuk pointed out that the Wuhan 10 weeks lockdown resulted only in 0.174 percent cost to Chinese economic growth. But Bangkok and the surrounding provinces account for almost half of Thailand’s total gross domestic product. If that kind of padlocking occurred in Thailand, expect to see bank closures, riots, more coup attempts, utter pandemonium in food stores and all the rest. And tourists? Forget about them for years to come.

It is not fully clear that the Wuhan experiment, locally successful for sure, resulted in flattening the pandemic curve in the rest of China. Other measures might have been responsible for that reality, such as massively reduced international and domestic flights, a road travel ban and changing diagnostic and testing criteria. We will likely never know the details as the all-powerful Chinese authorities “strongly disapprove” of non-approved citizenry talking to the media. Say no more.

Thailand’s future prospects now rest on how effectively the current rules are enforced and how quickly mass vaccination comes on stream. There is no point in banning booze gatherings by proclamation if groups continue to drink bottles of beer on certain beach areas of Pattaya after dark. No point either in dissuading people from local travel within a city or province if the road checkpoints are not staffed by day as well as by night. As the rascal Roman poet Catullus wrote, “Unenforced laws are a joy to behold.” The virus, whatever your stance on vaccination or politicians, can be tackled only by acts and not by words. The unpopular lockdown is here. Let’s get on with it.

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Chonburi immigration issues reminders to foreigners

By Barry Kenyon

July 26, 2021

After a fair number of disappointed customers turned up at Chonburi immigration police headquarters in Jomtien today, Monday, 26 July, officers remind the public that there is a further public holiday closure on Wednesday 28 July for the King’s birthday. Immigration nationally and locally, is open only Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week.

Immigration is also reminding all foreigners that the 90 days address reporting system remains intact. Last year, during an earlier Covid crisis, there was a time-limited dispensation for visa holders to bypass the three months’ reporting. No such instruction has been issued this time, according to a telephone interview with the immigration hotline 1178. There is a three weeks’ window for reporting – two weeks prior to the due date and one week afterwards. Chonburi Immigration does not require a prior appointment for those who have not reported online or by post.

Sixty day Covid extensions are still available for those unable or unwilling to leave Thailand because of the international health crisis. Foreigners with most kinds of visa or extensions of stay, if they wish, can request a further two months before the expiry of their current permission. The last date is currently September 27 (allowing a stay until late November). They need their passport, a TM30 form or proof of address to accompany the extension form.

However, non-immigrant “B” visa holders with a work permit are ineligible for the Covid two months’ extension unless they first cancel their work permit. The Covid crisis has resulted in some foreigners being declared redundant or facing the closure of their businesses. Economic migrants from neighboring countries are under different regulations and can receive one year extensions whether employed or not.

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Jomtien Immigration crowded out again

By Barry Kenyon

July 29, 2021

The double public holiday on Monday and Wednesday of this week produced the typical early morning immigration surge Thursday morning with 100 people already in line by opening time at 08.30. The busiest counters were to report 90 days residence in the kingdom and to request extensions of stay because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Social distancing and mask wearing were generally in evidence in advance of a temperature check. After receiving a queue number at the front desk, foreigners are able to take a seat in the covered car park, if necessary, to avoid overcrowding inside. A loudspeaker facility announces the next number for each counter. Nonetheless, the immigration bureau remains one of the most “popular” venues in greater Pattaya and one of the few public service outlets still operating normally.

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I still have yet to even see a police office anywhere I've been. I have no qualms about going out and going anywhere I please in Pattaya any time I want other than during curfew hours, not that there are very many places left to go.

The curfew is being enforced, but little else in Pattaya. I've seen many small mom-and-pop businesses reopening despite orders to remain closed. I have seen virtually no enforcement against businesses doing this. People have just had it.

I have mixed feelings about it. While I want everything done to prevent the spread of Covid, it is simply unrealistic to expect people to live with no income whatsoever and with no money whatsoever - and to do so for months with no end in sight. And even when it is considered ok for these businesses to reopen, they never know when they will be forced to close again. They've been on that roller coaster ride too often.




_______________________________________________________

Pattaya’s transport lockdown has unexpected results, say critics

By Barry Kenyon

July 29, 2021

The policy of the government and the provincial authority to semi-isolate Pattaya in an attempt to reduce virus casualties is a mixed-bag of consequences, according to some Thai and farang residents of the beleaguered city. Although the nighttime curfew, 9 pm to 4 am, is being generally observed apart from dare-devil party goers who seriously risk arrest, the daytime situation is much less clear.

Although public transport to other provinces has been decapitated, the main roads are still busy with private cars and no significant attempt to question the occupants. The major road checkpoint on Sukhumvit Road, outside Banglamung district office and police station, rarely appears to be manned during daylight hours with traffic flowing freely without interruption. Local vendor Prem Jamlong, who runs a food store nearby, said, “In spite of warnings that the authorities would crack down on non-essential travel during the day as well as after dark, this hasn’t happened.”

Pattaya rent-a-car dealer Jay Wirapong agreed. “Buses and trains aren’t running, but people have turned instead to private transport, hiring cars and other vehicles in much bigger numbers than usual.” UK retiree Andrew Philips said, “I drove yesterday all the way to Ban Sue station in Bangkok to get my first Astra Zeneca jab and never even saw a manned checkpoint, either going or coming. I had with me the online form to seek permission to leave the province, but nobody asked for it.”

On July 13, the local authorities ordered all visitors to Pattaya to self-isolate for two weeks without leaving their accommodation. But not much has been heard of this requirement in the past two weeks. However, the Banglamung police authority does have a number of officers on motorbikes making spot checks in the Greater Pattaya area. One of them told Pattaya Mail that they were particularly interested in minivans or pickups which could harbor illegal immigrants or economic migrants being moved around the province.

A further issue raised by locals is the ban on visiting golf courses in Chonburi province. The provincial order, effective July 20, particularly mentioned golf venues as well as swimming pools with beaches following soon after. But other neighboring provinces, such as Rayong, have not banned outdoor golf which has led to massive crowding at most courses as drivers from Chonburi seek their enjoyment outside the prohibited zone. If provincial orders are designed to deter social mixing and close physical contact, this one seems to have rebounded awkwardly.

With new infections in Chonburi province now approaching 1,000 daily – although the actual testing figures always relate a couple of days previously – nobody is expecting the lockdown to end any time soon. But the persistent issue is whether a successful lockdown is compatible with freedom of movement in private vehicles both inside and outside the provincial borders.

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