Should I stay or should I go? This has been one of many questions on the hearts and minds of foreigners here in Thailand during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is day 2 under a nationwide state of emergency in Thailand, which was officially announced by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha beginning March 26. While details of the shutdown and possible curfew remain unclear, a sense of urgency to make a clear decision on whether to stay in Thailand or risk traveling back to our country of origin is now crucial for foreigners.
A quick call to the US embassy this morning revealed their cut-and-dry recommendation: “All U.S. citizens are advised to make arrangements to return back to the US as soon as possible.” This is a message which is largely consistent with other embassy’s recommendations for foreigners living (and especially) travelling in Thailand during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, the Global Health Travel Advisory has reached level 4, its most severe, with many countries having already shut down their borders. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam announced on Wednesday that foreigners (with some exceptions) would be banned from entering Thailand while Thai nationals are still permitted to travel home if they present appropriate documentation.
It may be a good idea to visit your embassy’s website to see if your country of origin is still receiving nationals.
The US embassy told me it was still possible to return, but I would need to keep a close eye on flight cancelations (updated travel details for Americans here). Many foreigners here in Thailand are from countries that have significantly more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than the number currently being reported in Thailand. Many of these folks can still technically fly back, but worry about the uncertain situation waiting for them in their countries of origin.
Here are stories from five foreigners in Thailand, who recently decided to stay or leave, following the global outbreak of COVID-19:
“I’ve been living in and around Southeast Asia since 2013. For the past month and a half I’ve been in Laos for a climbing trip. I came back to Bangkok March 15th with the intention of staying a few days and heading to Taiwan as it sounded safe and clear of the virus. My friend and I got to the airport and they didn’t let us on the flight. They let the Taiwanese citizens on, but not foreigners. So we looked on Airbnb and got lucky finding a really nice place in Ari for a great price. I’ve debated going back to the US. I have some friends here in Bangkok who urged me saying I would be a fool to stay here. They think the virus will lead to the collapse of the government and the country and it’ll all be f***ed. But everyday I look at what Trump is doing is painful. He wants people to stop quarantine and go back to work for his precious stock market. I feel safer here. I won’t spend as much money here.”Andy Persky, American. -STAYED
“For me, as a student without any local support, the rumors of a nationwide lockdown last week prompted a return back to my hometown. I had to leave behind my apartment and most of my personal belongings there, thinking it’s an emergency case, but still intended to return soon. But then, they announced the policy of the medical certificate proving that I am virus free, and also the expensive insurance that’s required for the return. These feel near-impossible for me to get. So now I’m just waiting for the policy to lift, hopefully soon since I don’t know how long I can afford to reserve my apartment and also my progress with studies and activities back in Bangkok.”Me Me Zin Oo, Myanmar. -LEFT
“This time last week I was on a romantic getaway with my girlfriend in Hua Hin and my sister emailed me about the situation in New Zealand, and how flights were going to end soon. I ended up saying goodbye to my girlfriend, my job, my condo [in Bangkok] and flew to New Zealand that weekend. Now I’m in quarantine at my parents’ home in Wellington, unemployed and missing my girlfriend. Hopefully, I’ll get back to Bangkok in the next six months, but I’m not sure.”Bradley Mason, New Zealand. -LEFT
“Honestly, I think staying put is the best solution. I want to be close to my family during this difficult time, but I am hopeful that this will soon be resolved or at least we can return to a kind of normalcy. If I went back to my country and the ban was lifted, I would have to pay for expensive insurance and other documentation, which I am not able to afford. I think it’s better to be patient. It’s also a financial relief to my parents, because they only have to worry about paying my rent and enough allowance for food, instead of expensive plane tickets on top of everything else.”Miriam Chisanga, Kenya. -STAYED
“It’s simple for me, my other resident country, where my family lives, has shut its borders. I can’t get in! My family in the UK is elderly and Mum has COPD, she has been advised to self-isolate for 12 weeks, so I can’t go to England. Luckily, I have a retirement visa and health insurance, but it isn’t good being separated from loved ones.”Elizabeth Selby, England. -STAYED
Whether you have already left Thailand, are considering leaving, or have decided to stay in the country, this guidance note by the Humanitarian Women’s Network, vetted by Dr. Patrick Duigan, Regional COVID Responder in Asia, has been designed to help you stay safe, sane and informed as the COVID-19 situation rapidly develops globally.
Stay safe out there, everyone. Over and out.