Virus a wake-up call to change our bad habits

Virus a wake-up call to change our bad habits

With Covid-19 infection cases soaring past 300 in a short time, we have now realised the battle with this disease will be much tougher than we thought. In other words, despite the predicament in Wuhan, we unforgivably underestimated the threat it posed.

"We" means the government and us.

Now we have to think again.

One major mistake by the government was that it was too slow in putting a hold on mass gatherings. Why in the world did not a single official ever consider events being held at places like boxing stadiums? They waited until it exploded and we now have at least 18 infections from that fateful night.

More than three months after watching Wuhan and other Chinese cities coping with the virus, it appears we did not learn soon enough. That's a pity.

It's ironic when comparing the reaction by the government to the students' protests against the Prayut Chan-o-cha government after the dissolution of the Future Forward Party. It's a very different response. At that time, quite a few health officials came out and warned: Stop! Virus!

Yesterday, a man present at one of the venues in Thong Lor where a cluster infection spread that shocked the country posted a message on Facebook. He lamented that there had been no strong warnings that people without visible symptoms could be infectious. Had he and the others known, they would not have gone out partying. But they didn't, and about a dozen fell victim to Covid-19, and many others are being monitored.

But it would be unfair to blame it on the state only. Our mai pen rai mindset also put us in this situation.

I remember in the first few weeks after we heard of the dreaded virus, a number of people put on a face mask in public, but even then, with a diligence that left a lot to be desired.

A woman I encountered at a coffee shop in Pantip Plaza had a runny nose and was sneezing frequently. Her face mask was on until she ordered a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. A very familiar sight, to tell you the truth.

Her table was about a metre away from mine. I heard her sneeze every 5-6 minutes.

I sat and wondered why she had bothered to leave home when she was so poorly while praying she did not have the virus. Not for her safety but my own and that of everyone she came into contact with. Luck was on my side.

But that women was not alone. Thais are used to treating flu symptoms casually. We still go to work, do shopping and other things. Now that Covid-19 is a factor, that will have to change forever.

My concern is that these changes are not happening quickly enough. This is why we have "little ghosts" running away and causing trouble.

The other day, I walked past a famous grill restaurant chain inside a shopping mall. I'm still trying to do some shopping and eating out, mostly because I don't want the economy to die completely while we are waging this war. I rationally protect myself by wearing a face mask and avoiding crowded places.

But what about everyone else? Not so positive, I am afraid.

The chicken restaurant was bustling with customers. Good for the business but probably not for health. The tables were too close, with customers almost rubbing shoulders. No-one appeared concerned about the importance of maintaining a safe distance.

It's quite worrisome that most popular eating places are like that. I wonder how many will now be prepared to lose a few seats if it risks affecting the bottom line.

What it boils down to is mai pen rai thinking on both ends, the customers and the management. What a dangerous mindset.

We all know the importance of personal hygiene, kin ron, chon klang, lang mue (eating hot food, not sharing spoons, and washing hands frequently). That is not enough for tackling Covid-19.

I feel that some people are waiting for the government to announce we have reached Stage 3 before they smarten up their act. This is an irresponsible way to act, and people should see it as a civic duty to at least attempt to slow the pace of infection. The alternative is akin to gambling with people's lives.

It's a waste of time waiting for government orders or instructions. We shouldn't have to learn lessons the hard way, all the time.

Like it or not, we're going to have to learn to live, and survive, with this virus for quite some time. China has proved that it can be done and that discipline is the key. We must learn from their experience.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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