BANGKOK: The 53-year-old is no stranger to politics and high office having first served as an advisor to Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Prachuap Chaiyasan from 1996. Anutin held ministerial office during the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra in 2004 and 2005. He is currently a Deputy Prime Minister and the leader, since 2012, of the Bhumjaithai Party which came fifth in last year’s election with 51 seats.

Thailand’s Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, has become embroiled in another public controversy. This time after he appeared to criticise public health workers who became infected by the coronavirus. The minister made the remarks under questioning by reporters but later explained that he had misunderstood the question. He then expressed admiration for all healthcare workers. It is the fourth communication mishap surrounding the minister since February. On this occasion, the minster has attributed it to the extraordinary pressure he is presently under.

The 53-year-old Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul is Deputy Prime Minister and leader for one of Thailand’s biggest political parties. He also has a long history in Thai politics. However, since February he has suffered 4 communication mishaps linked with his key role in fighting one of the greatest emergencies the kingdom has ever faced.

Thailand’s controversial Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, hit the headlines again on Thursday after he appeared to be critical of public health workers fighting on the front line against the coronavirus as the situation mounts in the kingdom.

He was responding to questions from the media about the number of health workers reported to have contracted the virus.

This followed an earlier report from the Public Health Ministry itself which suggested that at least 11 personnel had come down with the infection.

‘We’re not happy with some health personnel’

The gaffe-prone minister responded by saying: ‘As far as I know from a report, no doctor has been infected while they were treating Covid-19 patients.’ 

He then added: ‘We’re not happy with some health personnel who do not take good care of themselves. They should have set an example for others.’

Drew social media fire with a Twitter hashtag

The statements by Mr Anutin predictably drew fire from social media commentators online.

This latest outburst led to a trending hashtag on Twitter simply using the word ‘Anutin’.

Swift apologies from the minister

The minister quickly apologised for his comments explaining that he was currently under a lot of personal pressure given the emergency.

He said that he had failed to grasp the questions fired at him by the media posse.

Minister Anutin underlined that it was not his intention to criticise care workers.

‘I have no intention to criticise anybody. I admire all of them,’ he said.

His apology also drew an equally predictable response such as one from a Twitter user which read: ‘Too late though. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’

Fourth controversy since February including attacks on foreigners not wearing face masks

This is the fourth controversy to envelop the minister in recent months and of course, may be explained by the pressure of his role as the coronavirus emergency rises to all-out war in Thailand. 

It began in February when the Minister of Public Health became visibly irate and made incendiary remarks after a western looking foreigner declined to accept a free face mask. This was at a promotion run by his ministry at a busy Bangkok BTS station which he attended and led.

Foreigners who fail to wear face masks should be ‘kicked out of Thailand’ said the minister in February

He railed that such foreigners should be ‘kicked out of Thailand’ and even discussed reporting such incidents to foreign embassies so that deportations could be put into motion.

He later issued an apology but one in which he declared that the foreigner who had refused his offer of a free face mask had insulted the generosity of the people of Thailand.

He made it clear that his apology was in no way to be understood as one to that particular foreigner.

Withdrawn order for foreigners to quarantine

Then, in early March, the minister posted on Facebook a draft order for all passengers arriving in Thailand from an extended list of both Asian and European countries ‘without exception’ must quarantine for 14 days.

That announcement was later withdrawn and a more limited order issued. Minister Anutin’s Facebook account was then deleted.

Anutin subsequently explained that he was taking a break from social media on the advice of his son.

Visit to Chiang Mai sparked another controversial series of statements referring to ‘dirty’ foreigners

Later on March 12th, the Minister for Public Health appeared to issue a message on a new Twitter account following a visit to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

In this, the minister decried the absence of Chinese tourists in the northern city famous for its cultural attractions.

Instead, he noted the prevalence of western foreigners who he described as being dressed in a ‘dirty’ manner and warned the public to be wary of them.

The minister later suggested, when interviewed, that he was not the author of the comments in the Twitter account which was subsequently also deleted.

New Emergency Operations Centre led by the PM has taken direct control of the health crisis

The new Emergency Operations Centre came into operation today under Thailand’s state of emergency agreed by the cabinet on Tuesday and announced yesterday.

This effectively means that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha now assumes supreme and overriding authority to direct Thailand’s fight against the virus.

The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health has been seconded to the unit to galvanise the response along with similar officials at the ministries of foreign affairs, commerce and the interior.

Minster is a Deputy Prime Minister and leader of one of Thailand’s largest political parties

The minister is the leader of one of the key parties in the government, the Bhumjaithai Party, centred on Buriram province which won 51 seats in parliament in the last election with over 10% of the national vote, making it the fifth-largest political force in the kingdom.

He is also a Deputy Prime Minister.

53 year old has a degree in engineering

53-year-old Anutin’s nickname is Noo. He is the son of Chavarat Charnvirakul, the Minister of the Interior in the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva up to 2011.

Married twice, he was educated at Assumption College secondary school.

He obtained a degree in engineering from Hofstra University in New York in 1989.

Family business is Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction PCL, one of Thailand’s leading construction and contracting firms

The business of the Charnvirakul family is one of Thailand’s largest contracting companies, Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction PCL. This company was a key contractor in the construction and development of Thailand’s main airport in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi which opened in 2006.

A long career in Thai politics

Anutin is also no stranger or novice to politics having once served a ban from political activity following his membership of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party led by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

He served as deputy minister of public health from 2004 to 2005 as well as holding the office of deputy commerce minister in 2004. 

He was formerly an advisor from 1996 to Prachuap Chaiyasan, Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The deputy prime minister was elected Bhumjiathai leader in 2012.

Further reading:

24-hour curfew in the works as the government puts curbs on national travel with checkpoints on roads

Anutin is proposing to close all bars and music venues including nightclubs and go gos in hotspots

Thailand extends quarantine rule for western countries including the US and the UK over virus

Thai Deputy PM Anutin warns the public to be wary of dirty white western tourists who don’t shower