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Mistrust Fuels Vaccine Efforts With Muslims in Thailand’s Deep South

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Deep South, Mistrust Fuels Vaccine Hesitancy With Muslims in Southern Thailand

In Thailand’s deep south Muslims fear, misinformation and chronic mistrust of the Government is undercutting vaccine efforts, as coronavirus cases spike in the region previously spared the worst of the pandemic .

Thailand’s deep south provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat have recorded scores of new infections each day after the virus seeped over the border from neighbouring Malaysia, which remains under a state of emergency to control the spread of contagion.

Thailand imposed further restrictions in the region , as well as Bangkok and six other provinces, for at least 30 days starting on Monday (June 28). The new measures include a ban on dining-in at restaurants as well as checkpoints.

The country is currently battling its most deadly wave of the pandemic: about 88 per cent of its nearly 250,000 Covid-19 cases and 95 per cent of the associated deaths – 1,943 in total as of Monday – have occurred since early April.

Covid-19 cases spreading rapidly in the Deep South

Infections have been spreading further than before, with the remote and tightly secured Deep South – affected less by earlier waves of the pandemic – now reporting outbreaks in prisons and emerging clusters linked to a religious school and a popular Pattani fish market.

Yet in this Muslim-majority region of Buddhist Thailand, vaccine coverage remains limited. Less than five per cent of people have received a vaccine against Covid-19 in the provinces of Pattani and Yala, total population 1.1 million, according to health authorities.

Those who have been jabbed tend to be from wealthier, more urbanized areas – and the majority are Buddhist.

“There’s no trust between officials and the people,” said Artef Sohko, president of The Patani, a political action group advocating self-determination for people living in the Deep South. “When you’re in a conflict zone the officials have all the power, so when it comes to a health crisis like this people are extra wary, and don’t trust the officials.”

Suspicion of the government’s intentions is so high that Artef said it would be better if an international organisation seen as impartial, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, were put in charge of the region’s vaccine roll-out.

Vaccine hesitancy in the deep south, meanwhile, seems to be spreading almost as quickly as the virus.

“Everyone in my village is scared that they might get sick or die from the vaccine,” said Ar-esah Hama, who lives in the shadow of Narathiwat’s forested Budo mountains, several hours drive from the nearest town or clinic.

China’s Sinovac vaccine jab

The 70-year-old is at high risk of complications or death if she were to contract Covid-19, but she said she will not get the vaccine – which for most Thais is currently China’s Sinovac jab – “until the whole village gets it”.

Another hurdle, according to Artef, is that “most rural people hold religious beliefs against the vaccine” – though he expressed confidence that the region’s population were “like any Thais, if middle class people tell them vaccines will save their lives, they will go get vaccinated”.

Fatima, a 24-year-old cafe owner in Thailand’s deep south town of Pattani, was not so sure. “I don’t know anyone who trusts the vaccine,” she said, citing inconsistent information on Thailand’s vaccination roll-out and fears that the jabs were rushed into production.

Meanwhile, a third field hospital for coronavirus patients with some 100 extra beds has opened in Yala province – under lockdown until July 17 – as a fifth opens its doors in neighbouring Narathiwat. And across the region, the number of cases keeps climbing.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

The CTNNews editorial team comprises seasoned journalists and writers dedicated to delivering accurate, timely news coverage. They possess a deep understanding of current events, ensuring insightful analysis. With their expertise, the team crafts compelling stories that resonate with readers, keeping them informed on global happenings.

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