Thailand's international reputation for pandemic management is not so good anymore

7 May 2021

As an upshot both Western countries have some of the highest infection rates and preventable deaths in the world. Thailand's lockdown had a significant impact on the economy, particularly in the tourism sector, as we watched in horror, probably believing the reverse situation would have the case. Even so, the government's tough action then meant the country to slow the spread and revert to semi-normalcy for the rest of 2020.

The third wave, that now the country is under control – with the original access point this time in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces – was sparked by nightlife in the capital and so-called "hi-so" members of Thai society, flaunting the well-published precautions as they danced the night away in close quarters. Among them, allegedly, some notable political figures.

 Thailand has reported 1,911 new infections and 18 deaths in the last 24 hours as of writing. Last month, the country recorded 36,650 new cases, the most since the pandemic started, including an outbreak in the fishing industry around Samut Sakhon's coast last December.

As fears of bed shortages grow, several field hospitals have opened in Bangkok and other parts of the country. Some hospitals,  predominantly in Bangkok – have been refusing to carry out Covid-19 testing because they don't have enough beds to comply with the government's mandatory hospital admission policy for all who test positive.

Meanwhile, the national vaccine rollout slammed for its snail-like pace and the low number of doses available. The government has decided to use only two vaccines – Sinovac by China and AstraZeneca from the United Kingdom, the latter of which will be produced locally under a technology transfer deal. Siam Bioscience, which was set up by CPB Equity, the Crown Property Bureau's investment arm, was chosen to manufacture the vaccine. Whereas the Food and Drug Administration has approved the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, there appears to be no rush to order it.

In the meantime, countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, which were initially chided for their slow response to Covid-19, are vaccinating their populations in the hopes of achieving herd immunity and rebooting their economies. With Thailand's limited vaccine supply is currently limited to non-Thais, some ex-pats are considering making long and expensive trips for the sole purpose of inoculation.

People in Thailand are angry, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his sidekick, Public Health Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, have been blasted for their handling of the crisis. Particularly, despite the availability of figures before the break of rising infections, the decision to allow inter-provincial travel over the recent extended Songkran holiday has come back to haunt them.

At the time of writing, a petition calling for Anutin's resignation has received over 228,400 signatures, although many see him as lacking any real power under the PM's rule, which has now taken sole responsibility for the pandemic. There may be a fallout over this throwing his deputy leader under the political bus.