Opinion: Coronavirus is a Wakeup Call for Thailand’s Inequality

Residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic queue up for food donations in Phitsanulok province on April 25, 2020,

The coronavirus is forcing us to do some self-reflection. 

This is a time to not just think about health, economic survival, but what’s “essential” in our life. The pandemic also makes us consider what’s excess in life that we may not need because in this time of crisis it’s simply superfluous.

Do we need that many clothes? How many It bags do you need? Is building up a collection of luxury watches or arts really what life is all about?

Or how meaningful is your job? Is it just about money, power and fame or all the above? What’s your true calling in life?


Many have led life too long in a state of auto-pilot, or auto cruise control, they hardly question their own comfortable existence.

Some well-to-do Thais have woken up from the slumber with the repeated reports about so many poor people queuing hours for food and supplies over the past weeks in Bangkok and elsewhere.

It became obvious to them that while well-off and upper middle class Thais spend time worrying about their weight going up during the lockdown work at home in Bangkok and elsewhere there are many people who worry about where food will come from each day.

Empathy is what some discovered during this coronavirus crisis. Some recognized that Thailand is a deeply unequal society and something needs to be done helping those in need.

Many have come out to handout food, others donated money. They don’t care if recipients share the same political ideology or are in the same political camp or not.

I observed one such empathetic soul at work, handing out food at Dusit district of Bangkok on Tuesday and was touched. Yet she acknowledged that the number of needy people is overwhelming and was modest about what difference she was making, if any.

If there is a time to think more about what unites us than what divides us, now is the time.

If there is a time to think more about class divide than political divide, now is the time.

It is also hoped that empathy will not end as just a feel-good past time for the next few months but a recognition that there is a need for a structural change in society. That requires long term efforts.

The underprivileged need to have greater access to opportunities to rise above their station in Thailand. There should be room for greater mobility and social as well as economic inclusion in Thai society.

Piece meal handouts of food and necessary supplies, or even cash by fellow citizens over the past weeks, while laudable, needs to go further after the coronavirus-crisis is over.


Thailand will remain a deeply unequal society if a poor man’s best hope for drastic economic betterment is to win a state lottery. Perhaps the government is fully aware that this may be the case so it announced on Wednesday that lottery sales are resuming now despite continued curfew and lockdown of many other businesses.

To better to do Thais, how can you be happy, comfortable or even oblivious with your conscience seeing so many Thais now suffering to the point of thinking of or already committing suicide?    

This will be a task ahead for those who care. Coronavirus time is wakeup time.