He didn’t use the word “lockdown”, but in a national “pep talk” sprinkled with both self-congratulations and warnings, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he might be forced to impose “additional measures” should the Samut Sakhon coronavirus outbreak spread out of control.
Pointing to mass testing ongoing in the industrial province southwest of Bangkok and “stricter regulations related to group activities and testing” adopted by governors in nearby provinces, Prayut said he “may need to introduce additional measures, especially to do with New Year celebrations and how, or whether, they should be conducted.
“I know how important it is for people to relax and how many small businesses depend on the income,” premier said in his televised address, so he must first meet with the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration before announcing “any additional regulations that may be appropriate for the evolving situation.”
Prayut earlier mused about imposing bans on group activities through Jan. 9’s Children’s Day madness, but his delay in taking nationwide action has left the door open to governors.
On Monday night, Chonburi Gov. Pakarathorn Thienchai’s banned crowded gathering at temples, mosques, churches, and places previously set up for festive events. In addition to the Pattaya Countdown, the Koh Larn countdown and Huai Sukri Floating Market concert in Sri Racha also now has been shelved.
Bangkok earlier had already done similarly, canceling official New Year’s countdowns, shut schools and set up checkpoints.
From his comments, it was clear Prayut has no qualms about locking down the entire country again, if that was what he thought it would take to keep the coronavirus at bay. He justified the month’s long lockdown earlier this year and again expressed hesitancy to reopening the country to visitors without them needing to undergo extensive testing and quarantine.
“Countries that were relaxed about health and safety precautions in the hope of preserving their economies are now the countries suffering the worst impacts on their economies because the pandemic has made it impossible for life to go on as normal,” Prayut said.
“We were strict … right from the beginning and, as a result, our economy has suffered less than others and we have been able to continue with some of our normal, day-to-day activities.”
He noted that his approach saved the county’s medical system from being overrun and spared families the type of family grief being experienced thousands of times a day in the U.S., which has treated the coronavirus with the seriousness of an inconvenient case of the sniffles.
With that in mind, Prayut clearly pointed at foreigners – both legal and illegal – as being the biggest threat to Thailand’s health and economic security.
In light of the raging pandemic outside the borders, “we all have to be even more careful with more-relaxed rules for letting into Thailand people from other countries,” he said. “The Covid situation is so bad outside of Thailand out biggest risk is that people coming into our country will bring the disease with them, and with it a disaster for our health system.”
Prayut said all air and seaports and border crossings must be security and vigilant with disease-control measures. He also pointed at immigration and border police officials, saying any “negligence” or “selfishness” could be ruinous.
“With regard to those networks that bring illegal immigrants into the country, they must be prosecuted without any leniency whatsoever, regardless of whether they may be people with official positions or otherwise,” the PM said, directly contradicting Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan who on Tuesday made the laughable assertion that no one in uniform was corrupt enough to be allowing or helping illegal immigrants over the border.