BANGKOK: There will now only be one source of information and orders coming from the government beginning on Thursday. This will be through an Emergency Situation Centre which will be chaired by the Prime Minister and led by top civil servants from four key ministries. All foreign travellers to Thailand are already banned. The public is directed to stay at home and to avoid travel. Further measures will be announced under extraordinary new powers vested in the Prime Minister to manage this emergency. However, government sources are underlining that this does not, as yet, mean a total lockdown.
On Wednesday, the Thai Prime Minister gave details of the state of emergency which will take hold throughout the country from Thursday. He said that an emergency committee directed by him would overcome the challenge facing the kingdom which he warned would get ‘worse’ as many people were already infected. Nonetheless, while the Prime Minister cautioned that people’s physical, mental and financial health will be tested in the coming weeks, he did promise that the Thai nation will emerge triumphant in its mission to defeat the Covid 19 threat.
The Thai Prime Minister this afternoon publicly announced the state of emergency agreed by the cabinet yesterday and which will go into force tomorrow morning.
In his television address, the PM warned that ‘many people have been infected’ by the coronavirus disease. He described the situation facing the country as a turning point.
He warned the public to prepare for bad days ahead and that matters could get ‘many’ times worse than they already are.
Large uptick in infections in Thailand
Thailand has reported a large increase in infection numbers in the last two weeks with numbers rising from 59 on March 11th to 934 today. That’s an increase of 1,483%.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Public Health explained that the main reason for the rise in infections was a change in its testing policy and not an underlying upsurge.
Of course, it is now acknowledged the range of figures associated with this disease in all countries has been skewed because of the lack of effective testing.
Italy yesterday announced that the number of infections among the population was probably tenfold the number of reported cases. This is simply a matter of medical priorities and resources.
No mistaking the deaths in hard-hit countries
This would mean that the official death rate in Italy of over 9% could be more like 0.9 to 1%.
However, there is no mistaking the number of deaths caused by this deadly virus which in Italy now stands at an appalling 6,820. This is what Thailand is now fighting to avoid.
In Thailand, from March 17th to March 24th the number of hospitalised cases under investigation has risen from 2,457 to 5,357 or an increase of 118%.
Prime Minister warned the crisis may see the use of field hospitals and large quarantine areas
The Prime Minister, in his emergency briefing today, stated that the deployment of field hospitals and large quarantine areas may be necessary as this war with the virus escalates.
‘There must be field hospitals and large-scale quarantine areas,’ he told the public. ‘If the situation does not improve, there will be a total lockdown.’
Government still trying to avoid a lockdown
It is reported that the government will, on the other hand, try to do as much as possible to avoid a full lockdown but that, right now, is hope as the PM indicated.
People are being directed to stay at home where possible and there are increasing reports of possible curfews with powers being devolved to provincial governors.
One point of information with daily reports
General Prayuth explained that the current emergency required one control centre for the government and one source of information to be released to the public.
He said that daily reports would be issued by him or his top team directing the fight against the virus.
New Emergency Situation Centre to direct the country’s fight against the coronavirus
Section 7 of the emergency decree under a 2005 law allows all power to be devolved from a cross-section of agencies to the new Emergency Situation Centre which will be chaired by the Prime Minister as President.
Assisting him will be the permanent secretaries at the Ministries of Public Health, Commerce, Foreign Affairs and the Interior.
The other key player will be the Supreme Commander of the Thai Armed Forces, General Pornpipat Benyasri, who will oversee security and the suppression of crime.
The Prime Minister said that consultants from all sectors would be called upon to advise the new body which will be effectively directing the country in its fight against the virus until April 30th next.
He said that this was a ‘worsening situation’ and that orders would be issued by the new Emergency Situation Centre or ‘war room’ for dealing with the crisis after it begins work on Thursday.
Under the Emergency Decree, orders issued by the Prime Minister in this situation have the force of law.
Price controls and a prohibition on hoarding
In his address, the Prime Minister has indicated that price controls may be introduced as well as more strenuous controls which he indicated may pose a challenge to the public.
He told the Thai people that this coming month will test the country’s physical, mental and financial health to the limit.
An order has also been issued punishing those who are found guilty of hoarding goods.
The initial orders announced include an injunction that all individuals over 7o years of age and under 5 are to be kept at home at this time.
All entertainment venues are closed as well as public gatherings.
Phuket governor has already introduced a curfew
Provincial governors have the authority to issue orders restraining people from entering or leaving designated areas or control zones.
It is being reported from Phuket that the governor there has already issued a curfew to prevent informal gatherings near Patong, the island’s now closed down entertainment hotspot.
The Phuket curfew comes into effect at 5 pm and means afterwards, all residents, both Thais and foreigners, must be indoors.
Clarification required on travel in and out of Bangkok
There is some confusion yet on travel in and out of Bangkok.
So far, the Bangkok Governor, Aswin Kwanmuang, has repeatedly urged the public not to leave Bangkok.
There have been similar calls from the Prime Minister even with a suggestion that checkpoints may be in place to question those leaving the metropolis.
This is expected to be clarified shortly.
Private sector businesses are already looking for more clarity on the government’s orders regarding the stay at home directive even though most Thai people are taking the instruction to heart.
One key business leader, William E Heinecke, the Chairman of Minor Group called for decisive action on Tuesday to limit travel out of Bangkok.
From Thursday, a huge range of non-essential shops including clothing stores and electronics shops will be closed until April 30th.
All foreigners now banned from entry to Thailand
In addition, all foreigners are now banned from entry into Thailand except those who have work permits, are diplomats, pilots or essential drivers.
The Prime Minister has assured the public that the banks, grocery and food stores, petrol stations and take out food outlets will remain open to cater to the needs of the public at this time.
Warning to social media users and news outlets
He also warned that false news or news items that mislead the public may be censored and the media outlets prosecuted under the law for violating the emergency decree.
Stay at home at this time
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister appealed for cooperation from the public, in particular, a directive instructing people to stay at home at this time where possible.
He made it clear that tougher legal orders under extraordinary powers now vested in his office and the committee overseeing this crisis until April 30th, will follow.
Prime Minister says he is in charge of the mission to protect the kingdom from the Covid 19 virus
The PM underlined his personal commitment to this challenge and confidence in the outcome.
‘From this point on I will be in charge of the mission to stop the spread of the virus. And I will report the progress directly to the people. We will fight the pandemic together and together we will triumph.’