Move is opposed by the minister’s fellow Bhumjiathai cabinet colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn and many tourism industry leaders who argue that tourism from China is already down 80% and that such a move will only alienate the Chinese public and jeopardise the long term relationship. The Public Health Minister told Sky News in the UK this week that the government was not able to halt the spread of the disease but could only detect, isolate and treat sufferers.
The Thai Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnverakul, has come out in favour of scrapping all visa on arrival facilities for Chinese visitors. It comes as Thailand has now confirmed its first case of a Thai national being infected by a human to human transmission in Bangkok. It comes also as Thai authorities crackdown on fake news. Health professionals, as well as the minster, say that they anticipate further transmission of the virus in the kingdom but hope to isolate and control the outbreak.
The Public Health Minister is now believed to be supporting a move to cancel all visa on arrival facilities for Chinese tourists to curb the spread of the disease and also to bolster confidence among the Thai public who have made known in the past few days their sense of unease at the continued access to the country allowed to Chinese visitors as the daily death toll and spread of the virus mounts according to updates from the communist state.
On Friday, the minister said: ‘The health of Thais is the most important priority,’ as he chaired a coordinating committee overseeing Thailand’s response to the outbreak.
Taxi driver infected by tourist in Bangkok
It comes after officials in Bangkok revealed that the number of infections in the kingdom has risen to 19 people and that a Thai taxi driver has contracted the infection from a Chinese tourist who arrived before the Chinese government cancelled all tours on January 24th.
This was revealed on Friday by Dr Tanarak Pipat, the Deputy Director of the Department of Disease Control.
The taxi driver was one of two who reported themselves to authorities this week.
World Health Organisation finally declares an emergency in Geneva as death toll climbs
This comes after the World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, late last night announced a global emergency in Geneva as China has confirmed that there are now over 213 deaths from the outbreak and nearly 10,000 infections.
Russia closes its border and even North Korea cuts links with its fellow communist neighbour
The move brought news that Russian was closing its border to the east with China and that its neighbouring communist state, North Korea, was also cutting rail and air communications with its main ally. Air France along with British Airways and a growing number of airlines, including Thai Smile have also suspended flights to China to help curtail the outbreak.
WHO has not called for trade and movement restrictions and has cautioned against overreaction
The World Health Organisation, however, warned against measures which may be considered an overreaction and has not called for the closure of borders or trade restrictions.
Indeed, the director of the global health body who this week apologised for his initial judgment on the matter when he referred to the pandemic as moderate, has insisted that last night’s announcement was not to be construed as a vote of no confidence in the Chinese government. ‘In many ways, China is setting a new standard for outbreak response,’ he said.
Praise from China from WHO director
The WHO director praised China for its decisive actions which he said would now help protect those outside China.
The director-general said the main reason for the decision last night was to protect smaller countries with less developed public health systems.
He also warned of the danger of fake news and fear in this situation. He called for the emphasis of media coverage to be placed more on science and less on fear.
Crackdown on coronavirus fake news in Thailand
On Thursday, the Public Health Minister Anutin Charnverakul made similar comments after Thai police officers with the Technology Crime Suppression Division applied for and obtained search warrants for 15 locations and announced that two people were facing criminal charges under Thailand’s draconian Computer Crime Act.
Over 7,500 complaints in 4 days
The charges are in respect of the publication of exaggerated and false news in relation to the outbreak which is emanating from around the world including from China.
The arrests were announced by Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta who said that the Thai centre for Fake News had received over 7,500 complaints or reports from the public relating to the current outbreak just from Saturday to Wednesday.
Two charged with an offence under Thailand’s draconian Computer Crime Act and face jail
The two will be charged with ‘uploading of false information into the computer system, which is bound to damage national security and cause public disorder’ under Section 14 (2) of the act which carries severe penalties including up to 5 years imprisonment.
Four others given stern warnings by police
Police reported that four other people have been given stern warnings by police but spared prosecution on the basis that their actions were not intentional.
However, police are still trying to track down the identity and location of 9 others who used false information or proxy IP addresses to create social media accounts and publish fake news online.
Minister Anutin urges the public to get news from verified sources promising that the state cannot lie
The minister and the Thai Public Health Ministry are encouraging the Thai public to get their news and information on the outbreak from official and verified sources.
‘The Ministry of Health will announce the situation to the public as much as possible. Which will be one way to solve the fake news. Trust the state information. The state can’t lie. The state must speak only the truth. And there is no other reason than to cause the country to become happy as soon as possible,’ said Minister Anutin informed the public.
Fake news undermining the morale of health workers as they work to ward off the threat
He indicated that the government was concerned that fake news might undermine the morale of doctors and professionals on the front line fighting and warding off the lurking threat.
Virus can be fought off by the immune system
The public health minister also referred to a theme that he has repeatedly alluded to this week in pronouncements.
That is that the viral infection can be fought off naturally by the body’s immune system. The figures and experience from Thailand so far, in fact, support his view with seven of those who contracted the disease already having been released and sent home.
Chronic and frightening situation in Wuhan is alarming people in Thailand and around the world
The question for many Thai people is the situation in Wuhan, China where in spite of claims of fake news, the highly respected AFP news agency today confirmed a story with verified footage of an elderly man falling dead on the street carrying a shopping bag and being taken away by a Chinese medical team wearing hazmat suits.
The news reports also confirm an atmosphere of fear and death in the central Chinese city of 11 million people.
Fear that the virus can be transmitted by people without visible symptoms after Japanese infections
There is also fear of the alarming rise in infections in China and the reports from Japan where person to person contraction of the virus has occurred without symptoms according to Japanese sources although no firm medical data has been published yet.
The death rate from the viral outbreak, which is now bigger than the 2003 SARS epidemic, is however far lower and appears to be somewhere in the order of 2.5% although this is reliant on the veracity of the information being released by Chinese officials which some western experts doubt.
Public Health Minister Anutin on UK’s Sky News – ‘We are not able to stop the spread’
The Public Health Minister, Mr Anutin was also quoted this week on the UK’s Sky News TV network as saying that Thailand nevertheless expects more people to contract the virus.
‘We are not able to stop the spread,’ he is reported as saying. ‘Our target is we will be able to detect all carriers entering Thailand and we will apply necessary measures as the situation develops. Of course, we expect more people to get sick but we are able to identify all of them.’
Target is to detect all carriers entering Thailand
He emphasised again that the Thai government was prepared for a situation in which more people may contract the disease.
However, he has urged the public to be vigilant. ‘There is no way of knowing how many more coronavirus infections will emerge in the coming days and weeks, so residents must continue to protect themselves as best they can,’ he said.
Fellow Bhumjaithai Minister Phiphat opposes moving to scrap visa on arrival for Chinese tourists
The minister’s stance on visas for Chinese tourists is being opposed by his fellow Bhumjaithai Minister for Tourism, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, who argues that tourism from China has already dropped off by up to 80% and the move to cancel the visa regime will only inflame already raised tensions online in China.
Thailand is among other Asian countries being criticised by Chinese online users for lack of solidarity as airlines and governments across the world move to cut off access to the communist country where nationalist sentiment was already on the rise even before it became engulfed in this unprecedented medical emergency.
The alternative visa facility for Chinese tourists being proposed is that a medical letter will be required before a visa to visit Thailand is issued in China.