BANGKOK, Thailand -- Fear of the coronavirus is rapidly making
Thailand less attractive for tourists, potentially boring for
residents, and possibly dangerous for white people.

Places where people "rub up against each other" will be closed, Prime
Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced on March 17.

Earlier, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul's media blamed "dirty"
Caucasian tourists for infecting Thailand with COVID-19.

More than 600 people -- mostly Thais -- have been infected. Many of
them recovered, and one person died because of the coronavirus.

Officials announced the closure of all schools nationwide and, in and
around Bangkok, entertainment venues such as bars, massage parlors,
and sports stadiums from March 18-31.

Concerts, some Buddhist gatherings, horse racing and other mass events
have also been cancelled.

Shopping malls, restaurants, markets, and offices remain open but need
to sanitize people's hands or take other health precautions.

Thailand's April 13-15 Songkran new year holiday has also been
postponed indefinitely.

Songkran celebrations throughout Thailand evolved in recent years to
be the world's biggest public water fight. Thousands of Thais and
foreigners deliriously spray and dump water on anyone in public on all
three days, often causing accidents, injuries and deaths.

White tourists meanwhile face a unique problem. Health Minister
Anutin's twitter account stated on March 12:

"Ninety percent of Thais are wearing masks.  However, none of the
Caucasians are wearing masks.

"This is the reason our country is being infected.  We should be more
careful of the Caucasians than Asians.

"Right now, it's winter in Europe, and with the [coronavirus]
outbreak, they have all fled the cold and the virus to come into warm
Thailand. Many of them are dirty and do not shower," the statement in
Thai language said.

The tweet was deleted hours after it was widely condemned.

The health ministry told reporters it was Mr. Anutin's account but his
staff sometimes posted tweets.  Mr. Anutin did not apologize.

It was inaccurate to claim 90% of Thais are wearing face masks.

During a taxi ride across Bangkok on March 22, roughly 50% of the
Thais seen working, shopping or strolling wore face masks.  Fewer
people wear masks in towns outside of Bangkok, some residents said.

On February 7, Mr. Anutin -- who has no medical license -- said
on-camera during his health ministry media event in Bangkok:

"Those damn Caucasian tourists, that is something the embassies should
be notified of, and the public as well, that they are not wearing
medical face masks.

"They need to be kicked out of Thailand!" said Mr. Anutin while not
wearing a mask.

A Bangkok Post editorial on March 15 criticized Mr. Anutin for "making
racist comments about Westerners".

The next day, the Bangkok Post published a letter to the editor in
which someone named David Amaan wrote that the health minister "needs
to be dealt with appropriately, starting with a strong disinfectant
administered orally, followed by an enema."

Tourists and expatriates expressed fear that the health minister's
media activity could spark violent racial attacks against them in the

"It might go a bit hard core in coming days, especially the blame game
against Europeans," said a worried German writer living in Bangkok.

A Muay Thai training club's manager told Bangkok's Thisrupt news, "For
now, we are not allowing any foreigners to come to the gym to workout.

"We don't know who they are, where they have been, or who their
friends are. The foreigners could have been in contact with other
foreigners, who have been to other places that they don't know of,"
the Thai manager said.

The racial targeting comes amid a worsening shortage of face masks in
this Southeast Asian nation.

"Some doctors have told me that each medical professional is given
only one mask a day," columnist Paritta Wangkiat wrote on March 16.

"They have had to cut up their used masks to prevent anyone from using
them -- especially following reports of disposed masks being
recollected, washed and resold for a profit in the market," she said.

The Thai Pharmacies Association's 3,000 pharmacies "have run out of
face masks and hand sanitizers since last month, and have not been
able to place orders," the association's advisor Theparak Surathanond

During the group's recent yearly conference in Bangkok, "We had to buy
the goods [face masks] at a very high cost," Mr. Theparak said.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha transferred Internal Trade Department
chief Whichai Phochanakjj on March 15 to investigate the mask

Mr. Whichai's department was allegedly linked to exports of a large
number of face masks during January and February, officials said.

Do-it-yourself instructions on Thailand's social media and at live
tutorials in shopping malls, teach people to stitch cloth, such as
double-ply muslin, to make masks at home.

The masks were of dubious quality and not sterile, medical face masks.

Several "mask profiteers" were arrested for buying "recycled" face
masks in bulk from "junk dealers" and illegally reselling them in
Thailand, officials said.