'Uncaring' govt sees discontent mount
The poor performance of the state in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic, with record numbers of infections almost every day, has stripped Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his government of the public's confidence.
The light at the end of the tunnel looks dim. Yesterday's 6,087 new infections and 61 deaths were a new nadir since the third wave rocked the country in April.
The past few days have seen a sharp rise in criticism against the government from those in the middle class, especially among many typically classified as "politically neutral" or even supporters of the prime minister. Gen Prayut's tasteless sense of humour and laughter seemed to come at the wrong time. His use of na ja' as a tease at the end of a press conference only made things worse. Some interpreted his tone as a lack of sympathy with public grievances over his quasi-lockdown measures. Others condemned the sudden restrictions, including a drastic dine-in ban that will last for 30 days without immediate relief measures, as poorly thought out, and questioned the government's competence in dealing with the pandemic.
Several in the food industry are angry that the prime minister invoked the eat-in ban late on Saturday night, backtracking on earlier promises to the contrary. The reversal only added to their woes as they, with false confidence, had stocked up on cooking supplies and ingredients.
The relief packages that were later issued hardly boosted Gen Prayut's popularity. It has been said that if there was an election tomorrow, the Palang Pracharath Party might be reluctant to propose him as their choice for premier.
In fact, the closure of construction camps in Bangkok which caused panic among workers who fled the city en masse backfired as new infection cases surged in at least 32 provinces. The government seems unable to learn from its mistakes after, once again, creating more problems by imposing sudden restrictions.
The workers have been blamed for the spread of Delta variant which was first detected in May at a construction site in Laksi where attempts to stop it spreading further proved futile. As of June 20, there were 661 people infected with this variant in Bangkok and adjacent provinces as well as some areas in the Northeast where many of the construction workers are from. Public health personnel have expressed pessimism over the spread of Delta variant which could soon replace the Alpha strain as the most prevalent.
While Bangkok remains the epicentre of the outbreak, the situation in the provinces is worrisome, with new clusters emerging every day, including at childcare centres and schools. Some areas that had only just been reopened have had to be sealed quickly following the workers' exodus.
If we look back, the government should have done better in curbing the worker camp clusters, given that the pandemic was detected at one or two camps around mid-May and there were assurances that soldiers would be sent in to oversee the containment of the infected. The rest is history as the outbreak soon spread like wildfire.
It is an open secret that the outbreaks at city construction sites, where 70% of workers are migrants, can be traced back to people smuggling operations and huge underground sums of money. Although the government vowed to take action against the smugglers, little has been done. Only one major operator was caught over the past three months. This failure to subdue the smuggling networks speaks volumes about the dysfunctionality of state mechanisms.
The current outlook is gloomy now that the highly transmittable Delta strain seems to be the major threat, with some doctors expecting it to be the dominant strain in about three months, and the national jab programme still progressing at a snail's pace. And yet, despite public scepticism in the efficacy of the vaccine, the government continues to order more Sinovac.
AstraZeneca seems to be more reliable, but its availability is unfortunately limited. Almost a month after the June 7 vaccination campaign launch, AZ deliveries are still infrequent, resulting in supply shortages. Government MPs had bragged about soon-to-arrive shipments of 10 million doses of AZ a month, but the National Vaccine Institute confirmed yesterday that only 5-6 million are arriving in Thailand at the moment. The institute said it has ordered 20 million doses of Pfizer as an alternative but admitted the delivery has already been pushed back to the fourth quarter of the year, not the third, as previously agreed.
These about-faces have annoyed the public no end. More and more people are demanding transparency from the government over the deals it has struck with vaccine producers and want to know what it plans to do if there are further delays, the impact of which could be devastating with rising cases and a public health sector on the verge of collapse.
This predicament means no herd immunity as hoped. The dream of a speedy reopening in October, as envisaged by Gen Prayut, or Bangkok reopening at the end of this month, will be shattered. This projected victory in the fight against Covid-19 is just more political marketing and has zero chance of becoming reality.
If the infection rate is still rising at the end of the month, the timeframe set by the government when it launched its latest quasi-lockdown measures, it may have no choice but to implement a total national lockdown. And if that is indeed what ends up happening, the severity of people's plight -- and their anger -- could reach a point where they could be ready challenge the government's stability.
Assistant news editor
Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.