PM Prayut downplays severity of Thailand's COVID-19 situation, claims other countries have it worse
BANGKOK: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday (Jul 29) downplayed the COVID-19 situation Thailand, while claiming that other nations are dealing with higher caseloads.
In a special interview held at the Government House, he said: “If we contemplate the transmission in our country, it may seem shocking, given the daily fatalities. I want you to try paying attention to these numbers in our neighbouring countries and others for a change.”
“At present, every country in the world has more or less felt the impact. There are many top-ranking countries, as you can see, whose numbers are many times higher than ours.”
Despite the rising COVID-19 caseload in Thailand - which has remained above 10,000 cases for two weeks – the prime minister maintained his government’s handling of the pandemic is not problematic. He argued that other countries have not been able to curb the pandemic either.
“There are a lot of people. We have employed hundreds of thousands of medical personnel, officials, police and military officers to take care of nearly 70 million people. I don’t think our system is problematic. The issue is about the sufficiency of officials, who have to provide more care. We have to rely on volunteers,” he said.
Thailand reported 17,345 new COVID-19 cases and 117 deaths on Friday. Since the pandemic hit the country last year, it has recorded 578,375 infections and 4,679 fatalities. Data from the health ministry showed 192,526 patients were in hospitals on Friday and 1,012 of them were put on ventilators.
READ: Thailand's COVID-19 national vaccination programme hit by supply shortage, uncertain delivery schedule
Thailand appeared to have managed the pandemic well last year, with months of zero transmission locally.
However, the situation took a sharp turn a few months ago. A cluster at Bangkok’s high-end nightclubs in April triggered waves of outbreaks that have since plunged the country into a crisis.
The spreading of the highly-contagious Delta variant and surging infections and deaths have raised public concern and provoked criticisms against the administration.
Reports of infected persons dying at home while waiting for hospital beds, insufficient COVID-19 vaccines and increasingly limited access to public healthcare have piled pressure on the government.
During the interview, Gen Prayut warned the public not to believe in everything they read or heard, urging them to check the information against what the government reported and analysed.
“There are some people who distorted information and caused confusion,” he said. “If you receive the information and just think about it all by yourself, analysing it, talking about it and criticising it as you like, this is dangerous, making it seem like the system was not good."
Gen Prayut’s interview was broadcast by the Government House’ Facebook page shortly after the Royal Gazette published his order to ban news reporting or dissemination of information that could instil fear in the public.
Effective from Friday, the ban also applies to content that is intended to distort information, causing misunderstanding during the period of emergency as well as affecting national security, peace and order.
When such content is detected, the prime minister has authorised the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to notify internet service providers so that they could block the content in question. NBTC is also required to report the incident to police for legal prosecution.
As infections soar, the demand for medical treatments in Thailand has grown. In Bangkok - a major hotbed of transmission - medical resources are under severe strain.
Hospital wards are getting full and ventilators are scarce. Many residents have not been able to access public healthcare or contact health officials.
Noting the difficulty in reaching health personnel through COVID-19 hotlines, the prime minister apologised for the inconvenience. He also urged those who have been infected to do more than trying to reach health personnel via their house phones.
“If everyone just waits at home, it can sometimes be too late. You should go to a pre-admission centre or at least contact field hospitals. There are many of them now,” Gen Prayut said during the interview.
“District offices are fine too. Sometimes, making calls only doesn’t work because the lines are busy – inaccessible. So, a relative or someone should notify so that a team can be dispatched to provide care.”
He added: “Everyone has to help each other. At least, notify fast. If nobody comes, notify military units, notify police stations – something like this – and they’ll be there.”