6 June 2024

One possible explanation for the continued, terrifying increase in COVID-19 cases in Thailand is that the country may be arriving at the most unwanted juncture. As news reports focus on “clusters” at fresh markets or construction sites, and debate on whether a new lockdown is sensible, less attention has been given to the fact that no matter where infections take place, the affected ones will finally be home, where they sleep and eat with other family members.

It’s a problem that happened before in many countries. Lockdowns first brought everyone closer together but soon pandemic mistrust will set in. For an unknown virus carrier, there are one or two or more people he or she sleeps with, eats with, and hugs or kisses on a daily basis.

Thais had prayed they would never have to deal with that truth. However, figures, photos, and shared experiences are a resounding confirmation that the day is coming, if not here already.

In the worst-case scenario, anyone close to anyone can be deadly _ kids coming back home from playing in the soi, or wives returning from partially-opened department stores or markets, or husbands getting back from 7/11, or working family members simply having finished whatever chores outside the house.

The issue is a taboo, and that is why most people, politicians included, do not want to talk about it. Yet the world has seen requirements about mask-wearing at home or about limiting the number of people living under the same roof. First, the coronavirus distanced big societies. Then it distanced the smallest social units.

Long-term social costs have to be taken into account, too. In India, many working family members who unknowingly infected their loved ones are living in guilt and depression. Some who eventually lost them described it as getting them killed in a car “accident”. Others went further, calling themselves “murderers.”

More common is stress. COVID-19 is dominating families’ and friends’ conversations and not in a good way. When paranoid involves strangers, office colleagues, or distant friends, it’s easier to understand than husbands and wives getting awkwardly near each other or grandparents having to avoid grandchildren they used to give bear hugs.

Most troublesome of all, however, is the immediate trouble. Without the in-family paranoia, the cases will likely continue to jump. This puts everyone in a tight spot. Pictures and news of infected family members desperately waiting for hospital admissions are both heartbreaking and telltale. They showed how many people got infected.

Now, everyone is knowing someone who has got the coronavirus from a daughter, or mother, or husband, or wife. For every undetected infection, there can be at least another one. Many are rushing tests because their family members have fallen ill.

To fight this situation, people ironically need to summon the drive that led to the situation in the first place _ love. But it has to be a new way of love, one that goes against the norm which governs usual urges, desires, or other instincts.

This is a new normal for love. Closeness and fondling used to be the main channel of expression. Not now, perhaps. COVID-19 is bringing Thais a romantic pain which has been experienced before in many places else: If you love someone, keeping a distance from him or her is probably the best way to go.

By Tulsathit Taptim

(with wholehearted respect for the courage of all health personnel for whom distancing is not possible)