BANGKOK: A new fiscal stimulus package was also announced today as well as a state of emergency decree under a 2005 law. The financial package has measures to assist the unemployed and those laid off as the result of business closures just announced and those to come. The Prime Minister is reported to be still weighing up the options for a lockdown or other measures to halt the spread such as a curfew. Today’s state of emergency announcement sets the scene for further news on Thursday.

An announcement of a State of Emergency was made on Tuesday to come into effect on Thursday and to last until at least April 30th next. It will herald an escalation of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus infection and the number of people who will die in the kingdom. The government now has the powers to regulate the movement of people and to order a lockdown or even a curfew if authorities deem it appropriate.

Bangkok’s Governor Aswin Khwanmuan pleaded on Monday for people to remain in Bangkok. On Tuesday, following a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha (inset top) announced a state of emergency would come into force on Thursday. Deputy Wissanu Krea-ngam (inset right) has said the government is ready to impose a lockdown but there will be adverse side effects.

On Tuesday, following the same cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak announced a stimulus package of ฿116 billion aimed at businesses but which also includes ฿45 billion in cash handouts for 3 million most at-risk workers. These people impacted by the wave of shutdown measures that have had to be taken with some still to come.

On Monday, Bangkok Governor Aswin Khwanmuang pleaded for Thai nationals not to move out of Bangkok even after the shutdown of places of employment including many outlets which employ informal workers.

He told the press that the large numbers seen taking flight on Sunday and Monday were, by and large, migrant workers from Laos and Cambodia racing for the border before Thailand’s already restricted checkpoint with their home countries are sealed.

Government still weighing orders for a full lockdown – it will have the powers from Thursday

It is being reported that the prime minister has been monitoring the situation carefully before issuing a lockdown order which Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam has described as a sensitive issue for Thais who value personal freedoms.

He said the move, while it may be necessary, will have many adverse consequences.

It is now anticipated, given the extraordinary powers that the government has taken onto itself, that Thursday will see some rapid announcements.

Government’s legal expert has indicated that a lockdown is under active consideration

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu had indicated that the government is actively considering the implementation of a lockdown in Thailand and restrictions on the movement of people.

Advance warning of a lockdown

The Deputy PM and top legal expert for the government had said, however, that any lockdown will come with notification to the public in advance.

He told the media the prime minister was still listening to the best medical advice and was weighing the situation carefully.

‘The government has thought about it and we’re waiting for a signal from medical authorities,’ Mr Wissanu said. ‘The prime minister is listening to opinions of medical and public health experts. Still, the government will have to consider people’s safety as well as their convenience.’

Government committee concerned about transport operations and have written to operators

Meanwhile, the country’s top committee fighting the coronavirus outbreak has written to transport authorities urging them to take steps to disinfect vehicles both before and after use. It also encouraged them to introduce social distancing measures among travellers.

The new sweeping government powers will ensure more robust action on this front from Thursday.

Governor pleads with Thais not to leave Bangkok

The Governor of Bangkok, Aswin Khwanmuan, on Monday made a live Facebook broadcast. He pleaded passionately with Thai citizens not to leave Bangkok.

His broadcast came as there were reports from Sunday of large crowds at Mo Chit bus terminal on the outskirts of the city.

Uptick in numbers driven by migrants returning home

Governor Aswin thanked and praised the Bangkok public for their patience and cooperation so far.

He asked transport companies to take action to reduce the density of people travelling and admitted that there was an uptick in numbers exiting Bangkok.

This was activated by the shutdown of shopping centres and many workplaces not only in the capital but gradually in neighbouring provinces and others throughout Thailand since Saturday last.

Millions of Bangkok workers can not afford to leave the city without work to keep them afloat financially

The problem for authorities is that millions of Bangkok workers do not have financial security, monthly salaries or cash reserves to fall back on.

The shutdown of businesses from last week first with bars and entertainment centres then followed by all non-essential retail outlets and shopping centres, means that many people simply must return home to make ends meet.

One estimate suggests that over 50 to 55% of Thai workers work in the black or informal economy which has traditionally been the key to Thailand’s low unemployment rate.

90% of exodus so far made up of migrant workers

On Monday, Governor Aswin told the media that nearly 90% of those travelling on Sunday and Monday were not Thai and this is supported by photographs of large numbers at Thailand’s border with Cambodia at Aranyaprathet in Sak Kaeo province on Sunday.

This was one of the few remaining crossing points still open into the other kingdom.

Calls for financial assistance to less well off Thais

The movement of the migrant workers and some Thai workers has prompted calls for more financial assistance to less well off Thais.

This was on the agenda of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting where proposals for handouts for employees of companies who can’t work were agreed.

However, this will not address those employed in Thailand’s huge informal sector.

Sunday saw up to 80,000 at Mo Chit bus station

On Sunday, there was a huge crowd at Mo Chit bus station with up to 80,000 people taking part in the exodus. The heightened activity was also seen on Monday.

Most of the workers heading home anticipated it would be for at least three weeks. 

Among the migrant workers, were also travellers heading for northern Thailand and the northeast of the kingdom and then onto Laos. Nearly all were buying tickets on spec at the terminal

Provincial Governors and local administrations being asked to implement social distancing

The exodus on Sunday and Monday has caused officials at the Ministry of Public Health to alert all provincial governors so that provincial officials at district, sub-district and village levels are made aware of the need to ensure that Thai workers returning home must quarantine and be kept isolated. 

This is particularly for the benefit of vulnerable people threatened by the Covid 19 infection.

They were also being urged to brief and inform all communities on proper hygiene measures.

At this time, this could be the critical difference to not only saving individual lives but those of whole communities if this virus takes a strong hold in provincial and rural settings.

New government approach to detecting infections

Officials at the Ministry of Public Health are increasingly concerned at the number of cases being reported outside Bangkok.

They have also indicated today the sudden upsurge in infections since early last week is due to a more accurate and sensitive testing system now being deployed.

Further reading:

Government declares a state of emergency with sweeping powers to curb the spread of the virus

Top Thai doctors warn Thai people of an Italian type catastrophe here without deterrent action

New Team Thailand to the rescue as ex-minister says infections can be controlled in a few weeks

UK Ambassador warns that links with home may be disrupted for many months as Thailand closes its borders

Mounting protest over new airline rules for flights to Thailand amid calls for an urgent lockdown

New travel orders will make flying to Thailand very onerous for all passengers from Sunday

Thailand faces lockdown if Phase 3 breaks out as the numbers infected more than treble in 1 week