The greatest test

The greatest test

Songkran is strange this year. There will be no water war where people dowse buckets of water on each other to cool off from the summer heat. We are encouraged to stay home and not to visit our old parents. Or if we do, we have to stay at least 2m away from them.

Then we cannot have a gathering with family members, friends and loved ones at our favourite dining venues because they are all closed for sit-in. We cannot go shopping because department stores shut their doors. We cannot see movies in theatres or go to concerts. We cannot have a masseuse ease our tight muscles that have worked so hard all through the year. We cannot even have our hair cut at our go-to salon.

Songkran -- the Thai New Year -- is supposed to be a happy moment we spend either with ourselves or the people we care about. But thanks to the novel coronavirus 2019, home isolation and social distancing measures are widely enforced. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc in Thailand too where an emergency decree and curfew are effective nationwide, making Songkran not even a national holiday in the country this year.

But amid those weird aspects of Songkran, Covid-19 is a test in its own right. In time of a global crisis like this one, true leadership is put to test. Take the United States, for example. Although President Donald Trump insisted earlier he had never underestimated the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, his botched response appears evidently like he underappreciated the gravity of the outbreak. Coupled with the lack of coordination plus the inability to send out millions of test kits and protective medical gear to American citizens, the Trump administration has transformed the spread of the virus in America into a real disaster. As the situation slips out of control, Trump slams the World Health Organization and threatens to cut US funding.

Now back to Thailand. If the Thai people are to grade Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for his leadership in this Covid-19 pandemic, the result is definitely not good. From the lack of co-ordination among the government's units themselves, and the inability to allocate and distribute surgical masks and protective equipment to healthcare personnel across the country to communication deficiencies, without a doubt the government does fail the fundamental tests of management and leadership.

On a financial level, the outbreak is an ultimate test for adjustment skills. For better or for worse, every business is affected, and so is the stock market. Hotel industry. Restaurants. Aviation. Entertainment. Department stores. Media. You name it. In this catastrophic moment, only the fittest and those who learn to adapt will survive.

For people on the frontlines like doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel down to police officers and soldiers, this is a test of strength and spirit. While most people work from home away from the crowds and the infected, doctors and nurses do not have that luxury. Neither do military and police officers who station at checkpoints making sure the nationwide curfew is not breached. There is no time for these frontliners to be weak and defeated.

Importantly, the spread of Covid-19 has almost wiped out the global effort to go green and reduce waste. With the necessity of single-use surgical masks, alcohol-based hand sanitisers in plastic tubes and plastic containers for food delivery at this time of the outbreak, environmentalists not just in Thailand but around the world will soon face a big test as to how to handle this waste and make people environmentally conscious again. This could be such a difficult test to pass when people now care about how to shield themselves against the virus more than anything else.

But for all of us, the Covid-19 pandemic is a test of all things that matter in life. It's a test of self-discipline to maintain self-responsibility towards our own career and family duties instead of freaking out. It's a test of self-judgement to believe or to not believe in news circulated both from mainstream and alternative media, to stigmatise or not to stigmatise those branded as infected and to witch-hunt or not to witch-hunt people only suspected of catching the virus. Our compassion is now being tested. So is our sense and sensibility.

The world is facing a very tough time. Thailand has been handed a very brutal test. With the infection cases around the world still surging, we can only hope with our fingers crossed that this test will not continue to bring the worst out of each other and that Songkran will be back to normal next year.

Arusa Pisuthipan is the editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Arusa Pisuthipan

Deputy editor of the Life section

Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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