Life in Thailand began returning to normal at the start of this year after two years of COVID-19 crisis that turned lives, businesses and the education sector upside down.
Though the country has not yet managed to declare victory over the new coronavirus, life has normalized in nearly all aspects.
Removal of restrictions
Thailand started 2022 with serious concerns that fresh outbreaks of COVID-19 could send the country back into full lockdown with the emergence of highly transmissible Omicron variant.
However, authorities insisted from the very beginning of the year that Thais must learn how to “live with” COVID-19 instead of resorting to drastic measures like lockdowns, weeks-long isolation and tough controls on travel and tourism.
On April 1, authorities removed COVID-19 from the list of diseases eligible for free treatment under the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (UCEP) scheme. Only COVID patients who develop serious symptoms can still use the scheme, while the majority will have to rely on social security or other welfare schemes they are entitled to.
Also from April 1, the government scrapped the rule requiring fully vaccinated tourists to undergo an RT-PCR test in the 72 hours before their entry and again upon arrival.
A month later in May, all schools in Thailand resumed onsite classes and relaxed their COVID-19 control policies. For instance, schools no longer have to shut down in their entirety for a small outbreak among staff or students. Schools were instead given the option of placing high-risk COVID-19 contacts in quarantine.
Businesses adopted the same approach, nudging their employees to return to the office. The number of passengers on mass-transport systems has also soared from last year, and Bangkok’s famous traffic jams have returned. Unsurprisingly, the economy started rebounding quickly.
From June, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) stopped providing daily reports on new infections and began logging only cases that required hospitalization or were critical.
On July 1, the mandatory facemask rule in public places was lifted and people were allowed to bare their faces in open-air venues like public parks. On the same day, the government scrapped the complicated Thailand Pass system for inbound foreign travelers.
With Thais returning to pre-COVID lifestyles, the CCSA shut down permanently at the end of September. On October 1, the emergency decree on the COVID-19 situation was scrapped. That same month, health authorities began giving weekly rather than daily reports on the national COVID-19 situation.
Living with COVID
COVID-19 has become part of life in Thailand over the past year. Most residents of the country have either been infected themselves or seen their friends or family members recover from the disease.
Many patients bought medicines and isolated themselves as soon as their ATK test showed two lines. Hearing that someone has contracted COVID-19 is no longer scary news.
People can now be seen hanging out together at workplaces, shopping malls and restaurants. The scene is far different from the height of the pandemic when malls were either shut or deserted.
Audiences have also started returning to cinemas, while organizers are now launching large public events including big concerts and fun fests for people to enjoy.
Meanwhile, relaxation of entry restrictions has returned Thailand to its status as a star of global tourism. The country has welcomed more than 10 million tourists this year. CNN recently included Thailand in its list of 10 best places to enjoy the 2023 countdown.
Caution still urged
While it is good to see life getting back to normal despite the lingering threat of COVID-19, health authorities are still reminding people not to lower their guard.
The week of December 18-24 saw 89 people die of the virus in Thailand.
Hence, authorities have been calling on people in high-risk groups – the elderly, the overweight or those suffering from respiratory disorders and other chronic diseases – to get booster shots to reduce the risk of death from coronavirus.
By Thai PBS World