11 July 2024
COVID-19 Social Distancing

2020 was less than two weeks old when coronavirus first arrived in Thailand, triggering a “new normal” that brought jolting changes to all our lives. As the end of the year arrives, life is no longer the same for Thai people, schools and businesses.

Gone are the days when people walked around mask-less without a care. The Land of Smiles was eclipsed this year as Thais eagerly took authorities’ advice to cover their faces and prevent the deadly virus from spreading. Under the new normal, people masked up whenever they left home.

Security guards now wave temperature guns, while people queue patiently to be zapped at malls, hotels, hospitals, schools, universities, and even temples. Alcohol gel is omnipresent, as Thais practise the new habit of washing their hands frequently to sterilise any virus picked up from surfaces.

We have also learned to keep our distance from others where possible. Social lives have suffered as Thais cut down on parties and concerts. People are now reluctant to venture out to eat, work or play. To cope with the constraints, we have turned to the internet for almost everything we need.

As a result, Thailand’s digital economy grew by 7 per cent in 2020.

According to the e-Conomy SEA 2020 report, Thailand’s market for video/music-on-demand and online games expanded by 20 per cent this year. Compiled by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company, the report reveals that since the COVID-19 crisis began, Thais have spent an average 3.7 hours per day online for personal purposes. During lockdown from March to May, that average jumped to 4.6 hours. Currently, Thais are spending an average 4.3 hours a day staring at their screens.

Thailand’s Top Stories of 2020

The advent of lockdown in March saw university students swap lecture rooms for online study, while millions of Thais shifted into work-from-home mode. Teleconferencing apps have become all the rage. Suddenly it became clear that many of our daily activities could in fact be done online.

Today daily life has shifted from the high street to the information highway, as COVID-19 proves the ultimate accelerator for digital transformation. Even individual entrepreneurs have jumped on the digital bandwagon to keep their businesses going. Small restaurants and food shops, for example, are now mushrooming on food-delivery platforms. No one complains about online transactions being too complicated anymore, as all of us scramble to escape the virus.

In April, the Public Health Ministry ordered a new normal for medical services to ease people’s need to visit hospitals during the COVID-19 outbreak. Patients can now consult their doctors via video then have their medicines sent straight to their home. Telemedicine is fast becoming the norm in Thailand.

Eight in 10 Thais praise technology for improving their lives during the pandemic. Today, the tech solutions have become part of everyday Thai life.

Yet, the new normal expanded beyond digital life this year. Many of us have discovered ways of maintaining our wellbeing under lockdown by exploring offline activities at home – safe from COVID-19 and away from screens. Some have honed their cooking skills to avoid potential infection from food outside, discovering previously hidden culinary skills in the process. Tellingly, air fryers have become a best-seller this year. Others have upgraded their homes with gym equipment, or even taken up gardening as their new hobby.

And while the COVID-19 lockdown has left many people who live solo craving human interaction, families have rediscovered the joy of spending time at home together.

Life in Thailand this year was defined by the “new normal”. But now, with the end of COVID-19 in sight, Thais will have to prepare for the “Next Normal”.