From having the second highest number of Covid-19 cases outside China in late January to reporting not a single case of local transmission for about seven weeks, Thailand’s success in maintaining a low caseload and fatalities has been a case in point. In fact, the trend has been noticed in other countries situated along the Mekong River basin — Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
Vietnam, which has won praise for its early response and measures, has not recorded a single fatality and has gone about three months without a case of community transmission. As of Monday, Vietnam has only 383 cases, Myanmar has 341 cases and six deaths, Cambodia 171 and Laos just 19, according to Johns Hopkins University tracker.
“I don’t think it is about immunity or genetics alone. It has to do with culture. Thai people do not have body contact when we greet each other. This is how the countries in the Mekong region greet each other as well,” NYT quoted Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, the Covid-19 spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, as saying.
Dr Wiput Phoolcharoen, a public health expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, meanwhile, has contended that people from this part of Southeast Asia were better equipped against coronavirus as they were susceptible to viral diseases like dengue fever than those from other continents.
Since the peak of 188 cases on March 22, Thailand, which reported the world’s first Covid-19 case outside China, has seen its Covid-19 curve flattening from mid-April. From April 15 to July 19, the country has recorded only 607 cases. Its present tally stands at 3,250 cases, including 58 deaths.
With Thailand being a tourism dependent economy, most of the cases reported in January have been attributed to the influx of foreign visitors from countries badly hit by the coronavirus. Besides, the country’s large population of migrant workers, many from neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia, also added to its woes.
Thailand imposed a lockdown as early as the first week of March, shutting businesses and schools. In April, Thailand banned all incoming flights and people were given rice and ration from Buddhist temples.
As of July, the country is returning to normalcy, with schools reopening and face masks and social distancing being made mandatory. Besides, in the first week of July, Thai New Year festivities, which were cancelled in April, led to an uptick in domestic tourism. Thailand has also allowed a trickle of foreigners back into the country.
Much of the success in Vietnam’s Covid-19 strategy lies in the experience it gathered while dealing with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS outbreak in 2003. Despite sharing a long border with China, the country managed to keep a check on cases in the initial months of January and February, where it recorded just 16 cases. The country saw a jump of 203 cases from the first week of March to April but, since then, the curve has flattened.
The government had started preparing to tackle the infection as early as January and by the time it had its first case on January 23, its emergency plan was in action. Travel restrictions, closing the border with China and increasing health checks at borders were some other measures put into action.
Even though the country did not enforce a complete nationwide lockdown, it closed schools from late January to mid-May and sent everyone who entered the country and contacts of confirmed cases to quarantine centres for 14 days.
It was not until late March that Cambodia introduced strict measures like shutdown of schools and entertainment clubs. The development came after the country saw its cases rise from just 7 on March 16 to 109 on March 31.
According to Dr W Courtland Robinson, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the custom of wearing masks in Cambodia helped in breaking the transmission chain.
“Mask wearing was very common, you’d see people wearing masks all the time, it wasn’t just COVID-19,” said Robinson. Some experts also said that due to Cambodia’s poor and dusty roads, people already wear masks.
Besides, Cambodia suspended visas for people from the most affected countries, including the United States, Germany, Spain, France and Italy and also restricted internal travel.
Much of Myanmar’s Covid-19 caseload has been concentrated in Insein Township, a northern suburb in Yangon, after a cluster of infections linked to sermons in early April led by a Christian pastor were reported. The government immediately imposed stay-at-home orders in the whole of Insein in mid-April and lifted them only as recently as July 1.
Much of Myanmar’s success in keeping Covid-19 at bay has been due to local level participation and awareness. Many towns built bamboo tents to serve as quarantine centers and banned non-essential movement. Townsmen also deployed guards at the main entry points in rotating three-man shifts.