The controversial Minister of Public Health was the first person in Thailand to be vaccinated on February 28th last at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi. The minister later claimed that at a religious ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Bhumjaithai Party, he had been in close proximity to newly infected Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob and had worn a mask at all times.
A depleted Thai cabinet met on Tuesday with some ministers taking part via video conference as the third wave of the virus began to ratchet up higher infection numbers centred on Bangkok’s fashionable pubs and nightlife district. One of the ministers taking part, via video conference, was the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party a key coalition partner in the current government, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul who on Tuesday was photographed by reporters at a party event sitting without wearing a face mask next to his cabinet colleague Saksayam Chidchob, who on Wednesday morning was confirmed to be carrying the Covid-19 virus.
Controversy has broken out again surrounding Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul after he was photographed at a Bhumjaithai Party event on Tuesday without wearing a facemask at a time when Thailand is facing a spreading third wave of infection from the virus which appears to be centred, worryingly, at the heart of the nation’s capital, Bangkok.
The minister appears to have been wearing a face mask at the event and took it off temporarily as it can be seen on his lap.
The photo is even more remarkable since it shows him sitting next to his cabinet colleague and Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob who on Wednesday morning was readmitted to a Buriram hospital with a temperature of 38 degrees and was later confirmed to be infected with the Covid-19 virus.
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin first in the kingdom to be vaccinated on February 28th last at Nonthaburi
On Sunday 28th February last, Mr Anutin was vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi making him the first person in Thailand to receive the jab.
The minister has been embroiled in several incidents during the virus crisis including one at the outset where he criticised foreigners for refusing to wear face masks and threatened to take action against them.
Warned the public to be wary of white foreigners in Chiang Mai on a visit in March last year
In March last year, on a visit to Chiang Mai, he lamented the lack of Chinese tourists in the northern city and warned that western foreigners were less hygienic.
He later claimed his comments on both situations had been misinterpreted and taken out of context.
He is also known to be an accessible figure to many western foreigners in the kingdom during his pivotal role in the current crisis.
Confirmed that he was in close proximity to Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob at a religious ceremony but confirmed he was wearing a face mask
On Wednesday, it was reported that Mr Anutin confirmed that he was close to Mr Sakshyam Chidchob at a religious ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Bhumjaithai Party but insisted that at all times he had been wearing a face mask.
It is understood that Mr Saksayam may have become infected with the virus after an official at the Ministry of Transport was among those infected in the now growing cluster of infection among patrons of drinking and entertainment establishments in the fashionable Thong Lor area of the city.
Rising cases reported on Wednesday
Thailand reported 334 cases on Wednesday as the number of infections begins to rise again with Bangkok and surrounding provinces being at the heart of this latest wave as well as an outbreak at a prison in the southern province of Narathiwat.
Top doctors are warning that the numbers will again soon rise into four digits.
All bars in key districts in Bangkok such as Khlong Toei and Wattana have been ordered shut while in other areas such as Huai Khwang, Phra Nakhon and Lat Phrao, only bars that have been infected have been closed.
Songkran restrictions put in place around Bangkok
However, an order just issued means that restaurants and entertainment venues throughout the extended Bangkok area will not be allowed to sell alcohol during the Songkran festival and will be required to close early at 9 pm.
This was agreed by the cabinet on Tuesday after a recommendation from public health experts.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin, warned that the outbreak centred on Bangkok bars and nightlife venues was a serious threat: ‘The situation has reached a critical level, with a 48% positivity rate from these nightclub clusters,’ he disclosed.
Thong Lor vaccination drive pushed by Bangkok’s Governor Aswin Kwanmuang targeting 2,100 workers
It comes as Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang has begun a campaign to vaccinate 2,100 bar and hospitality workers in the Thong Lor district as the Department of Disease Control has raised Bangkok to a red zone.
This has seen authorities survey the implementation of precautionary measures in key buildings and population centres across the city with a determination to bring the latest outbreak under control.
These have included disinfecting apartment buildings and key areas where the population congregates.
Bangkok as well as neighbouring Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan and Nakhon Pathom have all been raised to the highest level of alert which is red.
Case spread from Bangkok to Phuket
There are also reports of further infections throughout the kingdom including new cases in Chiang Mai and one in Phuket linked with a hostelry worker in Thong Lor who travelled by plane from Bangkok to Phuket over the last few days.
The outbreak has brought the Covid-19 threat right to the heart of the government with Mr Saksayam contracting the disease.
Minister of Transport under observation for 14 days at home after testing positive at a Buriram hospital
It is being reported from Buriram that the minister has been told to stay at home where he has been placed under observation for 14 days and will be tested again on Thursday.
All Bhumjaithai ministers and its 61 MPs in parliament will also now be in a state of isolation for at least 14 days.
Key ministers including Anutin take part in cabinet via video conference while others did not attend
The Minister of Public Health Mr Anutin was one of a number of ministers who attended this Tuesday’s cabinet meeting by remote teleconference.
The same system was used by his fellow deputy prime ministers Jurin Laksanawisit, the Minister of Commerce and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Don Pramudwinai.
A range of ministers did not attend including Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Sri-on and his deputy Mananya Thaiset as well as newly installed Education Minister Trinuch Thienthong and her junior ministers Khunying Kalaya Sophonpanich and Kanokwan Vilawan.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam and key government advisor Natthriya Thaweevong were also absent.
Those at the cabinet table were Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy Supattanapong Punmeechaow, Minister of Labour Suchart Chomklin, newly installed Digital Economy and Society Minister Chansin Treenuchagron and Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Anucha Nakasai.