The hungry have taken the place of tourists in line at Bali Hai Pier. Holiday boats have been replaced by aid trucks filled with donated food as Pattaya crawls on its collective hands and knees through the crushing coronavirus third wave.
Chonburi reported another 1,325 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, 223 of them in Banglamung District, which includes Pattaya. The eastern province is now the country’s second epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, reporting more cases each day than any other province except Bangkok.
More than 1,500 cases are now popping up in Pattaya alone each week. Restaurants are closed, except for to-go orders, deliveries. Convenience stores and supermarkets shut down by 8 p.m. No one is allowed on the street from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nearly everything is closed, down to beauty salons. Tourist-related businesses shut down, most for good, months ago.
It’s estimated 80 percent of Pattaya’s population depends on the tourism and nightlife industries, which have been dead for months. Now employees are dying, literally, with no beds left at Banglamung Hospital, the area’s main Covid-19 ward, and Pattaya’s latest 800-bed “hospitel” filled to capacity only ten days after opening.
There is no commerce. No relief. No hope. A sign at the intersection of Beach and Central roads once proclaimed Pattaya the “Extreme City.” Now it could be called “Heartbreak City.” How else to describe the rows of thousands of people, sitting under the hot sun on hot concrete at the South Pattaya jetty waiting for handouts of food they no longer can afford?
On Aug. 4, Pattaya Police and the Cetus Club Pattaya handed out 2,300 meals to the city’s needy, which includes nearly everyone now.
City hall security officers assisted with the handout, ensuring the masses were separated by at least two meters, wearing masks and were well-hydrated under their umbrellas.
Pattaya municipal police chief Pol. Maj. Jeerawat Sukontasap looked across the heartbreaking scene, recalling that, only a short time ago, the multipurpose area at Bali Hai Pier was used for fun activities like skateboarding and, not so long ago, grouping foreign tourists for trips on boats to Koh Larn.
There is no fun to be found at Bali Hai, only tears and hunger pangs. And plenty of fear about a coronavirus epidemic the central government has failed to control and left Pattaya to deal with largely on its own.
The overwhelming majority of Thailand’s scant supply of Covid-19 vaccines have gone to Bangkok and surrounding provinces. Pattaya, with a need for 950,000 doses, has been given fewer than 80,000.
Fed-up Pattaya administrators have dug into city coffers to find 88 million baht to buy their own vaccines. At that price, however, all they could afford is the much-maligned BBIBP-CorV, developed by state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group. Both company and drug are commonly referred to as Sinopharm. There is no credible research proving how effective it is.
Vaccines and foreign tourists are the only things that will save Pattaya and its people. The hope was that the government would vaccinate 70 percent of the population by September, allowing Pattaya to follow the lead of Phuket, Koh Samui and the Andaman Sea islands and reopen to fully vaccinated foreign tourists.
But the Chonburi Tourism Council admitted Aug. 2 that Pattaya would have to postpone its Sept. 1 reopening plan because Thailand may not be able to control the high rate of infections and provide sufficient vaccinations until the fourth quarter of the year.
Council President Thanet Supornsahatrangsi said tourism business have acknowledged that the plan to reopen two districts to international tourists in September will have to wait.
Pattaya can’t open as scheduled, he said, if Chonburi cannot build herd immunity by the deadline. And that is only four weeks away.
Until then, Bali Hai will play host to the hopeless and hungry. They’re hoping someone in Bangkok sees the photos.
The original version of this story appeared in the Bangkok Herald, a Pattaya Mail partner.