Just days after encouraging people to continue to wear face masks, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stood before a crowd in Phuket on Tuesday night, pulled off his mask and declared it was time to “move on” from Covid-19, sparking thunderous applause.
On Wednesday, mask fanatic and PM hopeful Anutin Charnvirakul and other Public Health Ministry officials parroted Prayut, claiming the “post-pandemic” stage of the Covid-19 scourge has arrived.
Anutin, the health minister, said he will consider next week lowering the national Covid-19 alert level again, but only after evaluating the impact of fully reopening the country’s nightlife sector.
The minister said he also is determined to declare Covid-19 an endemic disease, but did not specify when that would occur.
“To be endemic does not mean that the disease is no longer serious. The disease will be with us throughout our lifetimes,” Anutin said. “We have to know how to stay safe and avoid all infection risks.”
He pointed to millions of people – mostly older and the young – who are not vaccinated against Covid-19. Vaccination and hygiene campaigns will continue for the foreseeable future, Anutin added.
As for the face mask mandate, Anutin said it wasn’t necessary for the ministry to tell people they don’t have to wear masks. Instead, he wants people to decide that for themselves.
“Today we must increase our communications to ready people and Thailand for the endemic state of the disease. This will familiarize us with the situation, and we will know how to keep ourselves safely from the risk of infection,” he said.
Public Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Kiattiphum Wongrajit said experts have concluded that Thailand already has passed the pandemic stage and the ministry would decide in the middle of June if it should lower its Covid-19 alert level after evaluating the impact of full, legal reopening of bars and clubs.
Thailand on Wednesday reported 21 more Covid-19 fatalities and 2,688 new cases. The country soon plans to end daily reports.