Man Driven Jobless by COVID-19 Asks to be Jailed

Chaiyapon, at right, at the Wichit Police Station in Phuket on April 11, 2020.

PHUKET  —  Holding a single yaa baa pill wrapped in foil, Chaiyapon walked into the Wichit Police Station and asked police to arrest him for possession.

The 20-year-old Phatthalung native turned himself Saturday because he said a fate in jail was better than living with unemployment during the COVID-19 crisis, a police officer said Monday. Chaiyapon’s plight may become a commonplace experience soon, as experts expect unemployment to hit historic levels in Thailand due to the pandemic. 

“He definitely had the expression of someone recently unemployed,” Police Lt. Col. Chatchai Chunhoo said by phone Monday. “He said he had nowhere else to go, not even to go back to his mom.” 

Chaiyapon said he ingested one yaa baa, or methamphetamine pill before visiting the police station. He had worked as an electrician at a company located near Central Festival Phuket mall, but was now unemployed due to the coronavirus outbreak. He said he had used up all of his money. 

And since Phuket closed its land and sea entry exit points, Chaiyapon could not even go home to his mother’s house in Phatthalung province. Police had contacted Chaiyapon’s mother, who said that he was stressed from unemployment. 

“He asked me to go pick him up and bring him back to Phatthalung, but I was sick and the province was closed so I refused,” she told the police. “This probably made him both stressed and noi jai.” 

Chatchai said Chaiyapon is currently in the police station holding cell and will be transferred to a local jail, then a drug rehabilitation center. Police said they were afraid he would commit self-harm if he was not arrested. 

He has been charged with drug possession, punishable by one to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 200,000 baht. 

Larger Crisis Hitting Soon? 

Mass unemployment is looming over Thailand, where the majority of the population is hunkering down in isolation and provincial lockdowns. 

On Monday, officials from the national economic planning agency and private sector business chairmen delivered a piece of bad news: as many as 10 million people could be unemployed in the following months.

“Currently about 7 million people are out of a job,” Kalin Sarasin, the Thai Chamber of Commerce chairman, said at a news conference. “If the COVID-19 situation continues for two to three more months without proper measures to care for businesses there will be 10 million unemployed.”

The business advisory council said they would propose various support measures for business owners and their employees at the next cabinet meeting, such as asking the government to pay 50 percent of the 15,000 baht per month minimum wage, or 7,500 baht. 

More than 27 million people applied for government cash handouts of 5,000 baht a month since the scheme was introduced March 28. The first round of payments were sent to 1.6 million people from April 8 to 10, with the second round of payments expected Monday and Tuesday for 600,000 more people. 

The program is only eligible for informal workers or self-employed people. Those who registered but were not eligible, about 4.78 million people, were informed via SMS over the weekend, resulting in hundreds of merchants, taxi drivers, and motorcycle taxi drivers coming to appeal at the Ministry of Finance Monday.

Wichiar Aiaooakson, a taxi driver for 15 years, said he had applied for the cash handout on the very first day it opened on March 28, but his application was rejected because he had a public transportation driver’s license instead of a taxi driving license. 

“Why don’t I get any money?” Wichiar, 60, said. “I filled out the form truthfully with my driving license, taxi driver identification number, and so on. The Ministry of Finance needs to answer and send me money quickly because I’m in really hot water.” 

A motorcycle taxi driver fills out forms April 13, 2020 at the Ministry of Finance.

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