“Research has shown that air pollution makes people more susceptible to severe COVID 19 symptoms,” said Diane Archer, a senior researcher at the Asia Office of Stockholm Environment Institute.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Archer said, “It’s even more urgent to stop the burning now.”
As of April 1, Thailand’s northern region reported 22 COVID-19 infected cases in Chiang Mai, four each in Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son, three in Uttaradit, two in Phayao and one each in Phrae and Lamphun.
Last night’s Air Pollution Index in Chiang Mai registered at 119, which is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, including children and the elderly.
A wildfire has been raging in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park for around two weeks. Fanned by strong wind and the drought season, it has spread even farther this past Saturday, covering over 2,400 rais of land.
On March 30, local news reported that Chiang Mai authorities have arrested two men. After questioning, the men confessed to have started the fire on their land to create a firebreak. But said they had no intention for the fire to escalate.
“The fires surrounding Chiang Mai are dangerous to the health of the city’s residents and those living across the northern region,” said Archer. She added that forest fire in the northern part of Thailand unfortunately is a regular occurance, especially during the drought season. As such, Thailand must also take long-term precautions to avoid forest fire next year and beyond.
Archer also warned Chiang Mai’s economy will face long term impact, as the fire that continues to rage will further damage air quality and the environment. The area will take a long time to recover.
“Tourists will avoid the region and health problems will affect productivity [of the locals],” she said.
Hundreds of businesses have already reportedly shut down, as well as many public spaces due to the forest fire. Thousands of people are without jobs.