The rising third wave of the virus has seen some Bangkok hospitals run out of beds for Covid-19 patients with them also halting testing for the virus while a spread of infection among police ranks in the city has also been confirmed with 42 officers already testing positive. Now, it looks like a political storm is also brewing over persistent reports that cabinet ministers were present at pubs and nightlife establishments in Bangkok.
There are worrying signs that the fallout from this current third wave of the Covid-19 virus may be growing as hospitals in the city stop virus testing and making beds available while the Bank of Thailand warns of another possible economic contraction. The political fallout has already begun with the firebrand government party MP from Bangkok, Sira Jenjaka, demanding that the ministers who he believes attended a nightlife establishment in Thong Lor come before his committee after the Songkran festival and answer for their actions with a detailed timeline of their activities.
The fallout from the third wave of the virus, politically, may be just beginning after the firebrand leader of the House of Representatives committee on legal affairs, justice and human rights has come out to say he intends to invite two cabinet ministers before his committee who, he claims, may be linked with the devastating Thong Lor Covid-19 outbreak in Bangkok which is currently driving the third wave of the virus in the country.
The damage to the economy and extent of this third wave is growing as key hospitals in Bangkok are already reported to be full and refusing any more Covid-19 patients while cancelling all testing.
Police General Hospital in Bangkok inundated with police officers seeking to be tested as cases rise
The outbreak has also hit the Royal Thai Police with reports that the Police General Hospital has been inundated with officers who suspect they may have caught the virus while the National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jangyodsuk has issued an order asking police officers to work from home where possible with reports that at least 42 policemen have already tested positive.
Mr Sira has warned that he expects those appearing before his committee to account for their movements and will expect detailed timelines to be confirmed.
He has indicated that those failing to do so could face stiff jail sentences or fines.
Involvement of cabinet ministers, if true, may have serious political repercussions for the government
Given the scale of the emerging setback for the country and the government, if two cabinet ministers were involved and failed to come forward, it would be a devastating blow to the credibility of the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and one which may have severe consequences.
‘The law will be equally enforced, regardless of whether they are lawmakers or cabinet ministers,’ Mr Sira said on Friday.
Committee Chairman Sira Jenjaka determined to call the implicated ministers before his committee
The Palang Pracharat Party MP from Bangkok’s 9th district is known for his determination to get to the bottom of controversial matters and made quite a name for himself last year during the controversy over the decision by an assistant attorney general to drop criminal charges against Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya.
The committee chairman told the press that he was sent two photographs which he claims shows two cabinet ministers at a Thong Lor entertainment venue. He also indicated that both photos were dated and came from a ‘reliable source’.
Call for Police Commissioner to investigate the claims and the legal status of Thong Lor nightlife venues
Speaking to the media, Mr Sira, also suggested that it was incumbent on the National Police Commissioner General Suwat, to set up an inquiry to investigate the entertainment venue in Thong Lor.
He said he wanted to ascertain whether the premises concerned were operating under a valid licence or if it was operated within legal opening hours.
He made the point that if both responses were negative then it would be the case that the two cabinet ministers, identified to him, were supporting an illegal operation.
Some medical facilities no longer have beds for Covid-19 patients as the government makes plans for field hospitals in Bangkok and other provinces
It comes after the Ramkhamhaeng Hospital in Bangkok called a halt to Covid-19 testing on Friday and said it was also no longer able to admit Covid-19 patients. It was a similar story at Vibharam Hospital.
This has coincided with the government’s plans for military field hospitals in the city capable of catering for 3,000 patients.
On Friday, a convention centre in Chiang Mai was converted into a field hospital.
Bank of Thailand warns of economic costs
At the same time, the Bank of Thailand is warning that the implications of the third wave of the virus could certainly lead to lower levels of growth this year and possibly even another contraction in the economy, depending on how fast and effectively it can be brought under control.
Unease over the Covid-19 situation in parliament spreading among MPs as they begin to speak out
The unease about the political situation surrounding this latest virus wave which could turn out to be the most dangerous yet if not contained within Bangkok, a metropolis with over 10 million people in its midst and a larger number in adjoining provinces, has led to questions being raised in parliament across both government and opposition aisles.
Pheu Thai Party MP from Nakhon Pathom, Monporn Charoensri, has raised her concern that politicians who attended a meeting at the House of Representatives on April 1st were present even though they knew they were infected with the virus.
Palang Pracharat Party MP, Weerakorn Khamprakob from Nakhon Sawan has also questioned why members of the upper house of the assembly, the Senate, by and large appointed by the military establishment, had been vaccinated ahead of members of the lower house.
‘MPs from 77 provinces who sit here in the chamber are also at risk of infection,’ he declared.
Swirling reports of senior officials linked to Bangkok nightlife clusters as the capital drives the wave
Last weekend, as the extent of the third wave of the virus came to light, driven by clusters in pubs and entertainment venues in Bangkok and in particular Thong Lor, swirling rumours emerged in relation to high profile figures and senior government ministers being involved.
This drew a swift rejection from Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow, the Minister of Energy who was tested subsequently in Udon Thani and who was later one of only a few who attended this Tuesday’s cabinet meeting at Government House.
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday in Buriram
Then came news that Minister of Transport, Saksayam Chidchob, had contracted the Covid-19 infection and was placed under observation at home after attending a hospital in Buriram.
Mr Saksayam is the Secretary-general of the Bhumjaithai Party a key part of the coalition government and attended an event related to the party with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday before he was diagnosed positive with the disease.
Earlier reports suggested that the senior minister may have contracted the disease from an official at the Ministry of Transport who may have frequented one of the Bangkok establishments linked to the cluster.
Minister taking legal action against Facebook users over posts linking him to Bangkok nightlife venues
On Thursday, it was reported that Mr Saksayam Chidchob was taking legal action against two Facebook users.
The minister’s lawyer claimed they had posted photographs with the head area covered which purported to show Mr Saksayam at an entertainment venue in Bangkok.
The lawyer acting for the minister was named as Mr Tiwa Kankrasang who warned social media users that they faced prosecution by the minister’s legal team for acts in contravention of Section 16 of the Computer Crime Act for uploading false or misleading information.
‘Greetings to social media users, you should think carefully. Don’t post false stories that hurt others. And if you do, you will be responsible for what you did,’ the lawyer declared.
False rumours, which are denied, have damaged the minister and his social standing says his lawyer
He indicated that such information, rumours and false speculation were deeply damaging to the minister’s social status and influence.
He said the images posted online purported to show the minister at a nightclub venue in Bangkok, something which he strenuously denies.
He said the posts on the social media platform of the images with a red shade over the head of the figure and text identifying it as the Minister of Tranport had caused shame and disgrace to the cabinet minister.
He said he was authorised by Mr Saksayam to file a complaint with Police Lieutenant Colonel Prajak Damnak of Buriram Provincial Police and that legal proceedings against the people responsible for the posts will be pursued.
Police spokesman defends the Metropolitan Police Bureau and its actions during the crisis saying it is enforcing the law in relation to licenced premises
In the meantime, a spokesman for the Royal Thai Police, Major General Yingyot Thepjamnong, has confirmed the police commissioner’s order that all officers should try to work from home where possible.
The police spokesman also highlighted that an operation by the Metropolitan Police Bureau to enforce government regulations regarding licensed premises in Bangkok and measures to ensure that proper protocols are being observed, are underway
1% of Bangkok’s population received a first dose
The growing emergency caused by the third wave and the political fallout comes as, so far in Bangkok, less than 1% of the population has received a first vaccine dose with an even smaller number being fully inoculated.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is currently administering vaccine doses at a rate of just under 8,000 doses per day which has left 103,333 inoculated with a first dose from a population of 10.7 million people.