Thailand: Ramadan Rules

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May 6, 2020: Thailand has so far had about 3,000 confirmed cases of covid19 (coronavirus) and 55 deaths. That comes out to 43 cases per million population and 0.8 deaths per million. Neighbor Malaysia had 197 cases per million confirmed cases and three deaths per million. This was largely because some Moslem clerics defying quarantine rules and still holding prayer services in crowded mosques. Because more people in Malaysia were infected, as Thai Moslems working in Malaysia came home for Ramadan, or because they had lost their jobs in Malaysia, many of the returnees already had covid19. It could have been a lot worse for Thailand because of the large number of Chinese tourists and commercial visitors that are normally in the country. In late 2019 covid19 showed up in Wuhan and spread via Chinese workers traveling to areas outside China. Some of those infected Chinese ended up in Thailand but not so many that the virus spread all over the country. Thailand put most urban populations in  quarantine for a few weeks to isolate those infected and prevent them from traveling until after they recovered or died.

Elsewhere in the region, Bangladesh has 66 covid19 cases per million and one death per million. In Burma, it’s three cases per million people and 0.1 deaths. India has 36 cases per million and one death while Pakistan had 102 cases per million and two deaths per million people. China, where the virus began, stopped releasing covid19 cases and deaths data as part of a government program to try and blame the U.S. for the virus. Few (Chinese or foreigners) believe that and it is taken for granted by neighbors of China that the “Wuhan Virus”, as it was first known, indeed came from China. By now it has also become known that covid19 is not much more dangerous than one of the deadlier annual influenza epidemics. The flu is taken for granted and it is unclear if covid19, which is genetically almost identical to the 2013 SARS virus, another Chinese corona (trans-species) virus, will be an annual event or disappear like SARS and similar diseases. Covid19 is unique in that it attacks the lungs and is often mistaken for pneumonia. As such it is particularly dangerous to the elderly or anyone with a weakened immune system or other illnesses. Most healthy adults and children do not notice covid19 at all even if exposed to it.

Thailand has suffered about $40 billion in economic losses so far, including the loss of ten million jobs. Much of the damage was in the tourism sector. Chinese tourists stopped coming and soon after that most other tourists did likewise. Tourism is about 20 percent of the Thai economy and for 2020 tourism activity is expected to be down by at least a quarter and possibly a third or more. That added to other economic woes has most Thais anxious about their financial futures. The government sees the unemployment rate peaking at over 20 percent. In late 2019 it was estimated that the economy (GDP) would grow nearly three percent in 2020. Now the prediction of for the GDP to lose nearly six percent in 2020. This is catastrophic for a country that has long had an unemployment rate of one percent or less. Particularly hard hit is the south, which depends a lot on tourism and where the less educated majority Moslem population always had a higher unemployment rate.

The security forces (military and police) have spent most of their time this year enforcing the quarantine. That included highway checkpoints which force a lot of criminal activity to go cross-country instead. The rural population still has their cell phone service and fear of covid19 infection. This combination led to more tips about where criminals were and that soon led to the bad guys spending most of their time seeking to remain undetected and uninfected. There has been less terrorist violence in the south while drug smugglers, who are often armed, became more of a problem.

The military has had to cut its budget by half a billion dollars for 2020 and this included delaying some arms purchases. First among these are the fifty American Stryker wheeled armored vehicles that were to arrive this year. That will be delayed a year or more. The navy has cut its 2020 spending by a third. That has led to eliminating a lot of its 2020 ship modernization work and delaying the arrival of two Chinese built submarines. Other major procurement projects are expected to be delayed as well.

May 3, 2020: In the south (Pattani province) two paramilitary rangers were ambushed, leaving one ranger dead and the other wounded.

April 30, 2020: In the south (Pattani province) police cornered three wanted terrorists in a rural village. The three refused to surrender and opened fire. All three died in the gun battle while one policeman was wounded. The three were all wanted for numerous terror attacks and other crimes. The three had, between them, ten arrest warrants and their weapons were traced to 22 other violent incidents.

April 24, 2020: Ramadan begins. This is the Moslem holy month and it usually leads to some security problems in the south. Moslems shopping for a Ramadan meal (eaten after sundown when the day-long fast ends) are a problem because of the covid19 quarantine as are the more frequent mosque attendance during Ramadan. This causes problems in some Moslem communities where clerics insist that quarantine during Ramadan is un-Islamic and not allowed. Even without the Ramadan risk, the south has seen more violations of quarantine rules and thus more cases of covid19. Ramadan brings other covid19 problems. Observant Moslems do not eat or drink during daylight hours and that means most Moslems will not submit to covid19 swab tests during daylight. In the south, testing was expanded to non-daylight hours to accommodate Moslems but many still refused to cooperate. These problems can often be overcome by getting local religious and political officials to help. During Ramadan that is difficult because the troublesome Moslems can accuse local officials of being “enemies of Islam” for urging cooperation with the infidels (non-Moslems). So local officials will often refuse to get involved. Ramadan ends on May 23rd.

The security forces increased their efforts during Ramadan because Islamic terrorists believe attacks against enemies of Islam during that month are particularly righteous, especially if you do not harm Moslems. Despite all the additional security there are usually more terrorist attacks in the three southern Moslem majority provinces although most of these attacks caused few casualties. This year there have been fewer attacks than in most Ramadans. This reflected the downward trend in southern violence that began a decade ago.

April 22, 2020: The 2020 World Press Freedom ratings were released showing Thailand in 140th place (out of 180 nations). This is largely because of a military effort to silence all criticism of corruption and political interference they are notorious for. While that was bad, some of the neighbors were worse. Pakistan at 145, India 142, Bangladesh 151, China 177 and Iran 173. Some were better as in Afghanistan at 122 and Burma 139. In contrast Britain was 35, France 34, United States 45, Canada 16 and Germany 11. Top five were Norway in first place followed by Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands. Bottom five were Djbouti, China, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea in last place. These rankings are mainly about professional journalists and play down the impact of the Internet and many non-professional, but often well qualified, individuals who are now supplying a lot of the news, especially accurate reports of what is actually happening. The conventional media, which employs most professional journalists, has lost more than half its staff in the last twenty years as more people prefer non-professional or semi-pro reporters on the Internet. Governments find it easier to restrict the professional journalists, leaving the Internet based reporters as the main source of accurate reporting in many countries, like Thailand.

 

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