"Or Sor Mor" and "Ai Khai": Frontliners in Thailand's Fight against COVID-19.

AuthorMarddent, Amporn

People are sort of suspicious of us since a Muslim student returning from Iran was found infected with the coronavirus. They must know we are supporting our communities to combat COVID-19. We live here in Muang (District) Nakhon (Si Thammarat) not Tha Sala (District). At that time, our own mobility was restricted. We stopped visiting relatives in that area although no ban was imposed on intra-provincial travel.' We have mixed feelings along with confusion after returning from Phuket to our hometown. We then started to seek good fortune from Ai Khai. (2) Thailand reported its first case of COVID-19 in January 2020. On 5 March, the 47th of the country's confirmed cases of COVID-19 was detected in Nakhon Si Thammarat, a province in Thailand's Upper South. This was the first case detected in the province. The victim was a male student from Tha Sala District who had been studying in Iran. (3) He arrived in Bangkok on 27 February, and visited a hospital in Nakhon Si Thammarat on 2 March, with a fever and runny nose. Another notable case of COVID-19 in the province was a male who had attended a boxing competition in Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok on 6 March 2020. The boxing competition became a super spreader event resulting in 143 positive COVID-19 cases across Thailand. The infected male returned to Nakhon Si Thammarat and subsequently spread COVID-19 to several other venues.

This article, based on ethnographic work conducted by the authors from March to August 2020, aims to examine how people in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province are coping with the increased uncertainty caused by the pandemic, including health problems, economic hardship and restricted movement. One useful approach to analysing how individuals respond to uncertainty is to study the narratives and experiences of those who were susceptible to COVID-19. We use narratives to give voice to these participants, particularly those at risk of infection. (4) Building on these narratives, we discuss two forms of relief available to residents in Nakhon Si Thammarat: first, access to village health care volunteers; and second, access to spiritual or divine sources of assistance. Examination of these sources of assistance helps illuminate the importance of local contexts in understanding how the Thai people are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Health Support: Or Sor Mor

The national government attempted to control the spread of the coronavirus by implementing a variety of measures including social distancing, school closures, a prohibition on social gatherings, curfews and declaring a state of emergency. Following the issuance of the National Emergency Decree, effective 26 March until 30 April 2020, provincial governors and the media began communicating to the public the message that "health must come before rights and liberties". (5)

Yet, throughout the pandemic, local actors, such as "Or Sor Mor", or village health volunteers (VHVs), have played the most significant role in responding to the pandemic. These volunteers provide health advice to residents, support governmental activities and collaborate with public health officials in dealing with the viral outbreak. They also helped individuals and families in their community deal with the fallout of the pandemic and with repercussions of the government's measures. In the eyes of many, VHVs are "unsung heroes" (6) who led and coordinated efforts to...

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