Thailand Health Minister Lashes Out at European Tourists

PHOTO: Thai Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul handing out paper face masks - France24

Thailand Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told that European tourists refusing to wear a face mask in Thailand should be “kicked out’ of the country before to apologize on facebook. The incident shows a worrying xenophobia feelind of a member of government and, above all, a total ignorance of the real facts about how the coronavirus might affect people as well as of the contribution of European tourists to Thailand economy…

It was last Friday at Bangkok’s busiest Skytrain station Siam. A team of the Ministry of Health headed by the Minister in person, Anutin Charnvirakul, was handing out face masks to passers-by. As some of the tourists however refused to accept the masks prompting rather insulting comments from the Minister.

According to media including Coconuts Bangkok online news, Anutin called in Thai western tourists in front of the cameras translated into Thai as ‘Ai Puak Farang’, a rude way to address to a group of people- farang meaning Westerner]. These farang tourists. The embassies should be notified and the public should be informed too. We are giving away the masks, but they refused to take them. They need to be kicked out of Thailand,” declared the minister while answering to media at BTS Siam.

His statement is a worrying indication of rampant racism in some of Thai upper classes. But above all, it shows a total absence of knowledge -and obviously of good manners- of a minister who actually has no medical credentials (beside the fact of being the son of a famed politician). The minister finally apologized later on facebook for “losing his temper”.

However, distributing face masks is not a bad idea but most health experts including the WHO (World Health Organisation) deem the move as pointless except for the ones already affected by the virus or for people in touch with infected persons. WHO and medical authorities recommend first to wash hands with soap and sanitizer gels to best avoid a contamination.

Beyond the medical facts, the Minister should also be aware of the contribution of European tourists to Thailand. Europeans have now been coming for almost 50 years to Thailand, contributing largely to the success of the destination. Each time that Thailand faced a crisis, European arrivals have been extremely resilient. During the tsunami, the SARS crisis or political turmoil, Europeans continued to come while most Asian outbound markets were reluctant to visit…

In 2019. total European arrivals to Thailand reached 6.72 million, slightly down by 0.6% over 2018. Compared to China and its 10.95 million of travellers to  the Kingdom last year, European arrivals still generate a volume of 61% of all Chinese arrivals. Interestingly, spending per capita from Europeans last year reached THB 68,882 on average compared to THB49,441 per capital from Chinese tourists… Which means that Europeans on average spend 38% more in Thailand than their Chinese counterparts. If the incendiary remark of the Minister was translating into a European boycott of the destination -which is unlikely to happen- M. Charnvirakul might then need to hide behind his mask!

In-between, on Sunday, the Thai Health Ministry had confirmed a total of 32 people infected by the coronavirus. None of them were Europeans.