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April 9, 2020
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Thailand COVID-19 Shutdown Security for You and Your Business

This briefing has been produced for AustCham by Intelligent Risks (IR) to provide general background and security advice for individuals and businesses in Thailand during the current Covid-19 shutdown. It follows IR’s briefing provided for the Small Business & Entrepreneurs online meeting on Friday 27 March.

The purpose of this brief is not to be alarmist, rather to assist with providing a realistic understanding how the situation could evolve. It also canvasses the types of measures that individuals and businesses should be considering given developments in the local security environment.
Staying well informed by monitoring reliable sources of information is particularly important. Be very cautious of unattributed information circulating on social media. Wherever possible rely on sources with a track record of providing timely and accurate information. Social media is actively monitored in Thailand and the authorities are pursuing persons who recklessly circulate ‘fake news’.
The principal objective of the brief is to provide practical advice on developments over the coming months, how this may impact on AustCham members and their businesses, and some practical advice on what to expect and how to keep you and your business safe and secure.

Current Situation
Thailand’s Prime Minister announced an emergency decree on Thursday 26 March in response to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The emergency decree gives the Prime Minister authority over all decisions related to the management of the Covid-19 response in Thailand. The decree also gives provincial Governors the authority to order specific measures to be implemented within their province.

Under the emergency decree, the government announced an overnight curfew from 10 pm to 4 am with some exceptions for essential travel. An unofficial translation of the curfew announcement and exceptions is available on the Government of Thailand Public Relations Department website at https://thailand.prd.go.th/ewt_news.php?nid=9265&filename=index

Military units have been deployed to support police enforcement of the curfew with reports of up to 740 checkpoints set up nationwide. Penalties for breaking the curfew include jail terms of up to two years and fines of up to 40,000 Thai baht (THB). Bangkok Business News reports on the first two nights of the curfew a total of 308 arrests were made for people breaking curfew conditions (1). Four people were jailed for 15 days and fined 15,000 THB for breaking the curfew in Chai Nat Province on Saturday night (2). There are reports of an on-the-spot fine of 40,000 THB being issued to an individual breaking the curfew in Thonglor.

Check points are also operating during the day, however the majority of these are stopping drivers for temperature checks and in some cases questioning the intentions of travellers. Stricter movement controls have been put in place in some provinces, such as a ban on all non-essential travel in or out of Phuket province.

Provincial Governors have been progressively announcing increased restrictions, including border closures in a number of Provinces, roadblocks to control the movement between and in some cases within provinces and closure of hotels.

The government has established the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to provide coordinated public messaging and the CCSA is now providing a daily briefing in Thai followed by a summary in English. This has improved the quality and consistency of information available to the public.

Impact
The progressive closure of hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, along with significantly reduced domestic and international transport services, has had a dramatic impact on the Thai economy. While assessments of the actual economic impact are still speculative, there are estimates up to five million workers might lose their jobs. The President of the Tourism Council of Thailand, Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, estimates up to one million workers could lose their jobs in the tourism industry (3).
The Thai government has introduced emergency payments of 5000THB (approximately A$250) per month for three months for eligible workers. They have offered some business assistance and are reportedly considering a comprehensive package of assistance to soften the blow for the Thai economy. A government spokesman announced the Prime Minister has directed the Ministry of Social Development to launch a program providing accommodation and meals for homeless and unemployed.
These initiatives will cushion the impact of the significant employment losses. However, the 5000THB payment to workers might be enough to live on but does not replace lost income, particularly for those with large financial commitments. It also does not address the large number of workers in the ‘informal economy’ who have either lost or suffered a large income reduction as a result of a loss in trade.

Outlook
As medical experts indicate the current situation will continue for months, not weeks, it is likely large sections of the Thai community will experience a long period of financial hardship. Government assistance will address this to some degree, but the longer the reduced economic activity resulting from Covid-19 related restrictions continues, the greater these challenges will become for some sections of the community.

Thailand, and Thai society generally, is very resilient and will no doubt find a way to manage through the crisis. As evidenced by the almost instantaneous growth of delivery services, adapting to adversity is in the country’s DNA – so many will find alternative sources of income and many have returned to family homes in provincial Thailand to ride out the crisis.

We should not discount, however, the impact on a large section of the community who are likely to find themselves under significant financial stress. There will be those that will seek to take advantage of the situation, such as criminal gangs, and those who due to financial stress find themselves more susceptible to either coercion or engaging in opportunistic crime.

What does this mean and what can you do?

There is a regular level of criminal activity that occurs in Thai communities that is largely unseen by the expatriate community.

Thailand has a high rate of gun ownership and a high rate of gun related deaths. In 2016, Thailand had a rate of gun related deaths of 4.45 per 100,000, second only to the Philippines in South East Asia and higher than the USA (3.85) (4).

The estimated number of weapons in private ownership in 2017 was 10,342,000 equating to 15.1 weapons per 100 people (5). This includes over six million registered weapons and an estimated four million illicit weapons. Gun related violence spans the community and although many incidents are associated with criminal gang related violence, there are numerous examples of weapons being used in violent incidents resulting from business or personal disputes.

Royal Thai Police crime statistics for Police Area 1 (Greater Bangkok) in 2018 show the most common crime types reported are assault, theft, fraud and misappropriation. It is reasonable to assume these crime types will continue to occur through the current situation at least at normal levels and potentially increase, although there has been no evidence of that to date.
Businesses might experience a spike in procurement fraud and asset theft as people become desperate and criminal gangs seek to exploit the changed situation. It is certainly timely to be advising business units to be vigilant for malicious acts by ‘malicious insiders’. Maintaining close oversight of procurement processes, contract management and stock/inventory control will be very important over the coming months.

If business premises are moving to reduced operations or being temporarily closed, they should look at their local security risk environment and ensure suitable security arrangements are in place during the temporary shutdown. This includes protecting the business against theft and vandalism and minimising potential ignition sources when premises are not occupied for extended periods of time.

Such measures include actively monitoring CCTV coverage of high-risk locations – with a local response capability, patrolling of perimeters, ensuring alarm systems are functioning correctly at all access points, response arrangements are tested and meet emergency plan requirements. This is a time for thoughtful and effective security overlays, not static guards simply blowing whistles for effect!

It is also a time for people to be more security aware of their surroundings and personal security. Look up and around when walking the streets, avoid the temptation of walking head down focused on your mobile phone. Scanning the streets ahead of you will provide you with a good sense of the activity occurring around you and the greatest prospect of identifying any individual with possible criminal intent.

Avoid using ATMs in isolated or poorly lit areas, use the mirrors at the top of most ATMs to maintain your security awareness when using the machines and avoid waving large sums of cash around for others to see. Be aware of the potential for bag snatching, keeping bags and personal items on the opposite side of your body to the road. Avoid excessive and overt displays of wealth.

There has been some anti-western sentiment expressed by isolated sections of the Thai community. Most of this sentiment is based on a perception that some westerners are not following required measures to keep the broader community safe from Covid-19. Mask wearing for example, a measure many in western societies are not accustomed to, is now mandatory in several provinces in Thailand. There are significant fines for not following this directive. Stay abreast of local requirements and changing restrictions. Following them correctly will minimise the potential for inadvertently finding yourself the target of verbal or physical abuse.

Talk to your building management about their current security arrangements and what they plan to do should the security situation deteriorate. Simple measures can be progressively implemented in line with the local risk environment to keep you, your family and staff all secure.

The key principle underlying appropriate personal and business security over the coming months is remaining aware of your surroundings and adjusting your security posture in line with changes in the evolving security situation.

We all hope that Thailand manages to sail relatively smoothly through the next few challenging months of global economic downturn and social disruptions. However, it is always best to plan for the worst and hope for the best, so you are well prepared for any eventuality.

Reference:

  1. https://www.bangkokbiznews.com/news/detail/874606
  2. https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1893590/four-jailed-for-violating-night-curfew
  3. https://www.nationthailand.com/news/30384562
  4. https://voicetv.co.th/read/BJD5X0hqmhttps://voicetv.co.th/read/BJD5X0hqm
  5. Karp, Aaron. 2018 ‘Civilian Firearms Holdings 2017.’ Estimating Global Civilian-Held Firearms Numbers
Tony Harman, Manager (Asia) at Intelligent Risks
Tony Harman is the Bangkok based Manager Asia for Intelligent Risks, an Australian security, risk and crisis management consultancy. Tony has had a long association with Thailand. He studied Thai language fulltime at the Defence Language School in 1989, worked in the Department of Defence as a South East Asian analyst, studied for one year fulltime as an exchange student at the Royal Thai Army Command and Staff College and was posted to the Australian Embassy in Bangkok for three years as the Senior Transport Advisor. Tony has a practical and realistic understanding of Thailand and actively maintains many contacts from his long association with the country. Tailored advice and security assistance can be provided by contacting tony.harman@irisks.com
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