Despite the assurance of unity this week from government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri, there is tension at a political level both within parliament and even among the coalition partners in the government over the third virus wave which, on Sunday, saw a record number of deaths in Thailand. It comes as the kingdom mobilises its vaccination effort which must wait until June or July for enough doses to commence the second phase and which will only see normal adults vaccinated from August.
Foreign residents and expats who are over 60 or have an underlying disease can register now for the second wave of the Thai government’s vaccination process with inoculations scheduled to be carried out in June and July. The vaccine will be free. It comes as the third virus wave crisis shows no sign yet of slowing down and with a warning from top virologist Dr Yong Poovorawan that everything must be done to secure the country’s southern border with Malaysia where 31% of infections are linked to the South African variant of the disease which threatens to stymie the kingdom’s vaccination effort even before it gets into full gear with only 2% of the population vaccinated to date.
Foreign residents in Thailand are currently entitled to register for the second phase of the kingdom’s vaccination programme after the government this week confirmed that access to vaccines will be free for all residents of the country.
It comes on a Sunday that saw the country report its highest daily number of fatalities since the crisis began at 21 with a dramatic rise in those reported to be in a serious condition, up 325% since April 21st to 829 cases and those on ventilators up by 259% in the same period to 270.
There are currently 28,745 people recorded as hospitalised from the disease.
Registration app and hospitals taking bookings from those eligible to be vaccinated including foreigners
Thailand, on Saturday, launched an app where people over 60 or with an underlying illness can register for the second phase.
The Mor Prom (Doctors Ready) app was reported quickly to be overloaded although Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, the main spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), encouraged the public to be patient as there was plenty of time to get registered for the vaccine rollout which will primarily take place in June and July.
‘The Mor Prom Line OA is simply one of the registration channels. Today is the first day and is not the last. There are several other days people can register,’ Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin said. ‘If it’s not possible today, try again tomorrow. All eligible people should register and the data will be compared with the database in their areas. If all goes well, they can get the shots.’
16 million people targeted in the second phase
This second stage of the vaccine programme will see an eligible population of 11.7 million people over 60 and 4.3 million with underlying conditions such as respiratory illnesses, heart disease, kidney issues or diabetes qualify to be vaccinated primarily with the AstraZeneca jab.
Officials, in recent days, have confirmed the Siam Bioscience facility in Pathum Thani has been approved to churn out doses of the vaccine which is deemed suitable for adults and those over 60 years of age in Thailand.
2% of the population have been vaccinated as expats without Thai ID cannot use the online application
Over the weekend, it was confirmed that 1.5 million people or just over 2% of the population have now been vaccinated.
It has also been disclosed that before the LINE app failed under heavy demand on Saturday, 280,050 people had registered to be inoculated.
While expats and foreigners are provided for under the vaccine rollout, the LINE app only had provision for the input of Thai national identity numbers.
Expats with a Thai ID or ‘pink’ registration card can use this service while those living in the kingdom who use their national passport as their main ID, cannot.
Officials suggest that, for now, expats or foreign residents should contact their local hospital or medical facility to book an appointment if they are over 60 or have an underlying condition.
Officials confident that a network of hospitals and medical facilities with private sector supports can inoculate up to 500,000 people per day
The current plan being coordinated by the government and led by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) suggests that up to 500,000 people per day can be vaccinated at hospitals and medical facilities while private sector locations, including shopping centres, are also being used.
The third phase of the programme, for which registration will take place in June and July, will see up to 31 million people, all adults between 18 and 59 years of age, vaccinated from August through to the end of the year with a combination of the AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines depending on their age and suitability.
Political tension is building despite assurances of unity from government spokesmen as the virus rages through the population with record numbers dead
It comes as there are roiling tensions within the Thai parliament and within the coalition government over the handling of the crisis and the cause of the outbreak which may yet be the subject of a parliamentary committee hearing after Palang Pracharat Party MP from Bangkok, Sira Jenjaka, has promised to call key officials and even a number of cabinet ministers before his committee in relation to the beginning of the outbreak at Thong Lor nightlife venues.
This week also saw 6 leading opposition parties call for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul over their handling of the crisis.
PM reverses order to place controversial Deputy Minister of Agriculture Thamanat Prompow in charge of vaccine rollout in southern provinces
This happened while the cabinet on Tuesday showed its confidence in the government leader by divesting powers from key ministries and assigning them to General Prayut and the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to curtail the spread of the disease and move the vaccination process forward.
Reports of tensions within the coalition were denied by government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri over the weekend when commenting after the Prime Minister rescinded a plan to have Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Thamanat Prompow, oversee the vaccination process in the key southern provinces of Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phuket.
This caused alarm within the Democrat Party as the south is fertile political territory for Thailand’s oldest party which was pushed into fourth place in the March 2019 General Election and which later became a key party in the governing coalition.
The decision by the Democrat Party to enter into government and support General Prayut as PM in July 2019 was a difficult one for the party leaving it divided with mounting concerns that the Palang Pracharat Party is currently gaining ground at its expense.
It is certainly seen as less committed to the coalition government than the populist Bhumjaithai Party led by Deputy Prime Minster Anutin Charnvirakul.
Government spokesman says coalition is united
The government spokesman assured the press that the government parties were committed to working closely together at this time of crisis.
This followed a move by the Democrat Party leader and Minister of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit who came out to remonstrate with the PM against the appointment of Captain Thamanat to the role.
Top virologist warns of threat from South African strain which is active in Malaysia across the border
Sunday also brought a warning from virology expert, Dr Yong Poovorawan, who expressed his deep concern that the ultra infectious South African variant of the virus, known as B1351 and which is proven to be somewhat resistant to some of the vaccines especially the AstraZeneca jab which is the basis of Thailand’s vaccination plan, may cross over the Malaysian border and enter Thailand through its southern provinces.
The Chulalongkorn University medical professor said he is aware that 31% of infections in Malaysia, at present, are of this type.
Government must act to prevent its entry
He is urging the government to take whatever steps possible to prevent this from happening as it may undermine the kingdom’s vaccination efforts before it gets fully underway.
The South African government recently paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to problems with its efficacy against this form of the disease.
This has led to scientists at Oxford University who developed the AstraZeneca product, scrambling to modify the vaccine although some scientists suggest that it only fails to prevent slight to moderate cases with an overall efficacy rate of only 21.9%.