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Life under lockdown – the view from Thailand

Karen Newall was enjoying family living on the Thai holiday island of Phuket. Now she’s locked down and under curfew with her husband David and daughters Niomi and Bryony. She reveals to Carolynne Dear the ups and downs of life in the time of coronavirus.

Karen and husband David are remaining positive in Phuket.

“Phuket’s lockdown is severe. Each district or suburb is cordoned off with concrete barriers and heavily policed check points. 

“It’s illegal not to wear a mask and there’s a 20,000 THB fine plus a potential gaol sentence if you don’t comply. If you’re found to have a temperature, you’re taken to a secure COVID-19 hospital facility.

“We have a curfew from 8pm through to 5am and there’s also an alcohol ban. We’re allowed to leave our suburb for exercising, dog walking or shopping. Not all suburbs have a supermarket.

“I’m locked down with my husband David and two of my three daughters, Niomi who’s 13 and Bryony who is 18. My eldest daughter is back in Australia.

“The biggest struggle for me is not being able to visit our equestrian centre, Red Bamboo Horse Riding School, which we’re in the middle of building. Thailand also has an outbreak of African Horse Disease, thanks to a shipment of African animals that slipped through customs containing contaminated zebras. More than 400 horses have died in recent weeks and myself and my team are really worried. We have staff on site to feed our rescued horses and to exercise them, but we had hoped to have finished building the stables by now. It’s a real worry.

“My other challenge is keeping up to date with the constantly changing situation. Most information comes through in Thai first, so trying to translate this into English and figuring out what it means for us as a family has been tough. The rumours, fear and misinformation has led to more issues than the actual pandemic.

“There are lots of mixed messages about when lockdown will finally end. We’ve heard May 1, mid-May and end-of-May, all from different sources. And we’ve got no idea when they’ll open the bridge (Sarasin Bridge that links Phuket with the mainland) or the airport again.

“Then of course there’s the heartache of not knowing how long this will go on for. My eldest daughter is alone in Sydney and I worry about when I will get to see her again. The same goes for my parents, who are also in Australia.

“And I’m very fearful for the people here in Phuket, who rely so heavily on tourism. There are many going hungry already.

“It’s difficult to speak out about the government, but there have been an awful lot of conflicting messages. 

“Thailand’s deputy prime minister, who is also the health minister, did a lot of damage by saying that the spread of the coronavirus was due to the “dirty farang” not wearing masks and the European holiday-makers who had brought the virus to Thailand. It was said in such an awful, derogatory way that it influenced how people felt about the tourists and the expats who live here. 

“One Phuket internet site advised the Thais to arm themselves with catapults and to stone the farang, on the streets, if they were caught not wearing their masks correctly. The post received 5,700 likes overnight.

“I think the government should have admitted its culpability in leaving the borders open to high risk areas for too long. 

“Thailand was the first country to get the coronavirus after China and we were predicted to be one of the worst countries affected. Phuket alone had endless planes landing from Wuhan before the Chinese shut the city down. The weather and the climate here have definitely helped stave off what could have been a dire situation.

“The government is finally getting packages of food and small amounts of money to those who need it. It’s not being offered to everyone and our local Aor Bor Tor (local council for our suburb) hasn’t been great at helping the locals. 

“But there are positives. I’m ok with the lockdown because I think the measures are working well. I’m really enjoying this time with the kids and all the little things that we get to do together. I like the changed perspective on life and being able to see what’s important.

“I’ve been designated the task of picking up all the charitable donations made to our local supermarket each day. I take them off to the restaurants that are offering free meals to those people suffering from a lack of income. They are also distributed to areas such as the Burmese work camps, who have been left with nothing.

“To be honest I don’t feel like I’m doing much, but I do enjoy this guilty pleasure of being able to escape the house each day.

“Because my children are older and our school has been good at managing online learning, home schooling hasn’t been too much of an issue. There’s a regular school timetable running and the teaching staff has been very supportive.

“My 13-year-old has been using Google Meet to discuss problems with her classmates as a group, which has been great.

“As for me, I’ve been enjoying getting out all my old art things, doodling and playing with my paints. We have a jigsaw on the go most of the time – it’s nice as an ongoing activity. I’m finding repetitive jobs that don’t take much time or thought very soothing.

“We go out for a walk or a cycle at sunset each evening. The kids have been using that time to make videos and practise their photography. We’ve been bird watching in the garden and cataloguing the long list of feathery visitors who are flying by. Cooking, film watching and chatting to lots of people all over the world has been lovely, too. In fact, dare I say it, there still aren’t enough hours in the day!

“In terms of travel plans, my husband was meant to be heading to India for work, so that has obviously been postponed. We’ve also had visitors had to cancel their plans to come out and see us.

“I was looking forward to exploring more of the islands and the rainforest areas around Phuket with them. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it all soon.”

“But our first trip after lockdown will be to Australia. Being separated from family like this has been heart wrenching.”


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