The move comes as the clamour for Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul to resign mounts, with an online petition, launched by doctors last Friday already having over two hundred and ten thousand signatures and rising fast. The minister has been heavily criticised for his communication blunders and blasé, defensive attitude towards the crisis since the beginning not least his failure to engineer a larger and more robust national vaccine programme which has left the country powerless with vaccine doses for just over 2% of the population with hospitals already overloaded by a lethal third wave of infection that has many in the medical community extremely concerned.
Hours after being fined ฿6,000 by authorities in Bangkok for failing to wear a face mask at a cabinet meeting and with his Public Health Minister facing growing demands for his resignation, the Thai Prime Minister has come out fighting in an effort to defeat the Covid-19 virus and this latest wave which is currently overwhelming the country’s health system and if left unchecked has the potential to wreak havoc with rising levels of infection and deaths. The plan is to centralize the country’s response under the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) which will now have as its main goal the ramping up of the kingdom’s vaccination campaign which means, in the short term, finding 40 million additional vaccine doses in three months that Thailand right now simply does not have a fix on. The ultimate goal is to find 100 million doses to vaccinate over 71% of the population by the end of the year.
The Thai government is trying to recover its equilibrium after a disastrous few days since the weekend which has seen a record number of infections and deaths from the mushrooming third wave of the virus which has left the country’s public health system unable to find beds for those suffering from the disease and with overflows from Bangkok now being directed to military hospitals in provinces surrounding the city such as Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan.
It comes amid a rising clamour for the resignation of the country’s Public Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul after doctors who formed a group calling themselves ‘MorJaMaiThon’ or ‘Doctors Won’t Bear It Anymore’ initiated an online petition calling for his resignation over his failure to deal with the crisis and his lack of capacity and ‘vision’ on how to respond.
Petition for Anutin’s resignation has been extended to 300,000 signatures after 200,000 signed quickly
The petition on change.org, which initially asked for 200,000 signatures, is currently at over 210,000 and is rising continuously as anger over the developing situation in Thailand grows towards the key minister and leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, a populist political group that returned 51 MPs in the 2019 General Election and which keeps the government of Prayut Chan ocha in power.
Political analysts and critics suggest that an inability to remove Mr Anutin with growing public anger and disquiet over his performance is indicative of a government that lacks the norms of a democratic political environment where ministers are normally forced to fall on their sword when things go awry or they lose the confidence required for leadership.
Doctors have heavily criticised the minister
The controversial Public Health Minister has been heavily criticised by doctors within Thailand’s health service for his blasé response to challenges posed by the crisis with many of them not forgetting his criticism of them last year when the minister said any doctor becoming infected should be scolded.
They are also quick to point out that last year Minster Anutin dismissed the Covid-19 virus as being ‘just a common cold’.
However, the biggest criticism faced by Mr Anutin has been the government’s failure to chase down large quantities of vaccines for the country’s population.
Thailand, currently, even with the latest delivery of the Sinovac vaccine from China in recent days, still has barely enough to vaccinate just over 2% of the population.
Minster up to this third wave used to stand on the country’s low infection and death rate but no longer
The government’s stock defence up until the scale of this virus wave broke had been that Thailand had handled the crisis well with low-level infections. Now the situation has changed utterly.
It is this lack of ambition and defensive posture that is behind the anger being directed towards Minister Anutin and to a lesser extent, the PM, at this time of crisis.
Mr Anutin has adopted a resigned attitude to the criticism and calls for his removal.
Supported by messages from some within the health service, he said on Sunday, he would continue in his role because he can still do the job.
The minister explained that he had chosen the Public Health portfolio when the government was formed although the accepted reasoning behind that in 2019 was that Mr Anutin wanted to oversee his party’s key goal of legalising medical marijuana use in Thailand.
‘I’ve put in my best effort in everything I’ve done,’ he claimed on Sunday as he commented on the heave against him.
‘Don’t worry. If I can’t handle it, I won’t stay on,’ says Public Health Minister as the system buckles at the seams and confidence evaporates
‘Don’t worry. If I can’t handle it, I won’t stay on,’ he was also reported as saying as doctors are privately flagging their concerns that the rising death rate could lead to more Thai people dying at home and a breakdown in a system currently buckling at the seams as it tries to cope.
In recent weeks, the country’s highly respected virology expert, Dr Yong Poovorawan, has publicly worried aloud that Thailand could see a mutation of the dominant UK strain, in a development similar to what has happened in India with catastrophic results.
Hotline personnel in Bangkok have been inundated with panicked callers who are often told to wait or even redirected to other lines as the numbers reported as being infected keeps rising while the public is also beginning to grow more alarmed.
A Suan Dusit Poll on Sunday showed that over 60% of Thais are now uncertain or feel their government may not be able to cope with this crisis.
The survey of over 2,000 people up to April 22nd last also showed that 70.51% of people feel that this wave is the biggest so far while nearly 60% felt a fourth wave is possible for Thailand.
Prime Minister Prayut is one of the first people in Bangkok fined for not wearing a face mask on Monday
The situation, on Monday, became even more fraught with danger, politically, for the government when Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha was himself reportedly fined ฿6,000 when confronted by the Governor of Bangkok, Police General Aswin Kwanmuang, after a photograph appeared of him chairing a cabinet meeting at Government House in the capital without wearing a face mask which has now been made mandatory in the city with fines of up to ฿20,000 for persistent offenders.
The Prime Minister was reportedly among the first people in Bangkok to be fined under the new law brought in to combat the latest wave stalking the city.
This was followed by further embarrassment for the government on Tuesday when the press corps was told that Government House was being closed after three members of staff there were reported as being infected including a driver to the Vice Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office Seksakol Atthawong.
PM’s counter-attack, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has been empowered to push the vaccination drive forward
Now, to regain control over the situation, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), on Tuesday, was redeployed as the primary agency and command centre for the direction of efforts to combat the virus threat in the kingdom.
This initiative was outlined by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha himself on Facebook. He explained that the agency had recently divested back some of its powers to government ministries but this would now be reversed.
General Prayut said the primary immediate goal would be to source and purchase more vaccines and speed up the country’s vaccination drive.
The government leader promised that 30 million people will be vaccinated over the next three months which would require at least 60 million doses.
Anucha Burapachaisri, a government spokesman, said on Monday that only 28 million doses are due to be delivered, as things stand between May and August.
However, he promised that the government was in talks to purchase a further 40 million doses.
Key meeting to involve the private sector
The Prime Minister is meeting key business leaders from the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers’ Association and the Federation of Thai Industries on Wednesday with the aim of involving the private sector in the government’s overarching priority now which is the vaccination drive.
After meeting on Monday with key state agencies to reorganise the country’s fight against the Covid-19 virus, the PM promised that the government would begin to vaccinate 300,000 people per day and would immunise at least 50 million people or over 71.5% of the population by the end of the year.
Retired doctors and nurses will be sought and the vaccine network extended to halls, hotels and other centres away from hospitals with a wider reach
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Danucha Pichayanan of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) confirmed this key goal but also that the priority, as of now, was to have 30 million people vaccinated in three months and this meant purchasing 40 million more vaccines and distributing them more effectively.
‘The prime minister instructed all agencies involved to step up their efforts to procure more than 100 million vaccine doses by the end of this year. The vaccination drive will operate under a single command to ensure effective distribution,’ Mr Danucha said.
As part of this renewed plan under the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) the government will recruit retired doctors and nurses and expand the network of vaccine centres to a range of venues in the private sector to take the burden off the country’s already overwhelmed hospital network. This will include halls, hotels and even retail environments.
Meanwhile, Bangkok and other urban centres are braced for future restrictions and lockdowns as Thailand has yet to meet its darkest hour in this deadly and costly war against Covid-19.