This week, I decided to not write about a political or feminist topic (even though I would really be tempted to discuss the recently revealed mysogynist culture within underwear retailer Victoria’s secret). As I keep getting messages and calls about the Corona Virus and the pollution, I decided to write an update about the current situation in Bangkok.
First and foremost: we are fine. I was sick with the flu two weeks ago but it seemed like a “normal” flu virus that was going around. Currently, the situation in Thailand is the following: 14 cases were reported with the Corona virus, nine of which were released from hospital already. Bangkokians have been nervous because we are in the middle of Chinese New Year, the major travel time for Chinese tourists. Even though I think this year it has been very quiet – probably due to the virus, the pollution and the fairly strong Thai currency – I avoided crowded areas last week. Disinfectant products and masks are mostly sold out. We planned ahead and got masks and air purifiers a while ago.
Speaking of the mask – I now wear one every day. I look like a hybrid of a ninja, Darth Vader and Bane, the villain from The Dark Knight Rises. Delivery services are increasingly busy and at many restaurants, people order but take the food home. A lot of people avoid public transport, such as the sky train. I guess everybody tries to limit the amount of time spent outside.
In addition to the virus, Thailand has been hit with pollution. For two years, pollution in the country has increased steadily, especially in the cooler months between December and February. The reason is the burning of sugar cane crops in Northern Thailand. The vast fields require a lot of labour and capital to work on. An “easier” solution is to just burn down the fields. It has become such a big problem – the past three weeks, the PM2.5 index was consistently between 140-160. (For all Europeans: on very bad days, the bigger European cities hit values between 50-70 and those days are comparatively rare.) This means that when you look outside, the city is covered in grey smog. While being on the ground is sometimes deceiving, you can see it clearly when you are in a high rise: further up, there is a line between the greyish-brown fog and the blue sky. However, on the really bad days, it does not really matter where you are – you see it, smell it and feel it.
The frustrating bit is that it will probably not change until end of February and March. It is also the dry season. Hence, there is no chance for rain washing the pollution away. Unfortunately, there is also no end of the crop burning in sight.
What does this mean for daily life? I already mentioned the masks. In the houses, we use air purifiers. Many schools were shut because of the pollution. Because of the Corona Virus, I currently also avoid the gym – it is just too much of a risk to touch equipment. Hence, I am exercising with videos at home. Despite using a purifier yesterday, I felt really dizzy at the end of my workout – I guess when pollution reaches levels of almost 170, even the purifiers do not help that much as houses are not insulated and windows are usually also not closing completely. Eyes are watery and reddish – I keep using moisturizing eye drops. We were also advised to avoid touching our faces.
For me the biggest issue is that I am required to stay inside all the time. If it was just the virus, for example, I would avoid the sky train by walking. But with the current pollution levels, this is not an option. The virus and the pollution themselves are tricky, but combined they are just getting really difficult. Furthermore, as we do not really know too much about the virus yet, it is difficult to forecast what is going to happen.
Currently, everybody is waiting for the Chinese New Year travels to stop. Probably then we will know more about how the situation is developing. Everyone in Bangkok and Asia stay safe. Do wear a mask – I refused for the longest time but I am wearing one now too – wash and disinfect your hands and be careful.