They start out as aggravations, these disruptions that come from anticipating the virus.
Within the first 3 days of March the disruptions that have come to my attention are increasing here in Chiang Mai:
· Metro Technical College postponed its commencement exercises indefinitely, so our celebration of nephew Wave’s graduation with an Associate’s Degree in Automotive Mechanics won’t happen on Saturday. Across town much larger Mae Jo University also postponed their commencement. A score of announcements appeared about events being cancelled “until the end of March.”
· A private grade school in town suspended classes for two weeks. A whole lot of schools are expected to rush the end of the school year which would normally be in a week or two anyway.
· Most hospitals are complaining about shortages of face masks. But more ominously they are also beginning to worry about shortages of pharmaceuticals, many of which are from China, even those with American and British brand names.
· Women at the bank told me that they are disappointed they will not be able to go to Japan “to see the snow” as was planned by the bank. Flights around this part of Asia are hugely disrupted. There has been a 42% drop in passengers through CNX (Chiang Mai International Airport) compared to last year. All flights to and from China by several airlines have been cancelled, with only a handful remaining from next door Kunming, but incoming passengers are quarantined to some extent. Flights to South Korea and Japan are on a day to day basis.
· An “expo” was cancelled. A promotional fair might as well have been since the only people who wandered through the aisles of food were other exhibitors and sales personnel.
· Supply chains are beginning to be disrupted. That includes fruit which we have ready to send to China that will now probably rot instead.
The next phase of disruptions will be upon us when cases of the coronavirus 2019 begin to show up unexpectedly and randomly. It will no longer be cases of “better safe than sorry” and will begin to be handled as “preparing for the emergency.” As a matter of fact, the Thai public health system, which has made remarkable progress over the past 20 years, is not able to get ready for an epidemic of highly communicable flu-like cases. There simply are not facilities or equipment to handle more than a case or two entering primary care facilities or the transportation infrastructure needed to get cases to major medical centers. Those 29 centers (almost half of which are in Bangkok) would be overwhelmed if the number of cases were to climb to 100. COVID 2019 cases cannot be stacked in hallways. Medical supplies for these kinds of cases will run out.
We are pretty fortunate here in Chiang Mai. The atmospheric conditions are the worst in the world for the third day in a row with particulates into high danger zones. That exacerbates any respiratory conditions. It’d put anyone exposed to COVID 2019 into the very high risk group. But we don’t have crowded refugee camps here or people in massive numbers fleeing from war, so we can hang onto our confidence that the danger won’t wipe us out. We have space between us that we can try to maintain, and options if needed.
But how will we handle escalating disruptions of our way of life? What happens if the disruptions expand beyond simple inconvenience?
Yesterday I attended a community funeral. It was typical of village funerals. I looked around and reminisced on the myriad ways we were breaking all … ALL … the safety rules. Food was being prepared under trees in the orchard out back, with equipment washed from hoses. Nobody wore face masks that actually did any good. One woman had an expensive mask which she wore under her chin. Hundreds were half-listening to chanting while chatting leaning close together. They were drinking from shared glasses as always. We ate sticky rice with our fingers from bowls shared by 3 or 4 people. At least we didn’t shake hands. (Of course, around here nobody ever shakes hands, except sometimes with me.) The closest family members were packed into the front room of the house of the deceased woman. The room was small and the family was big. And what did she die from? A respiratory disease. COVID 2019? Probably not. Nobody did tests. She’d been sick with it for months.
In fact, we could not have a village funeral without a large community meal and chanting. Many things might be postponed or skipped, but what about funerals? The consequences of skipping or skimping on a funeral are unthinkable.
[The picture above is from the funeral mentioned. The son of the deceased is presenting a set of robes to the village monks.]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.