Quick fixes will not stop spread of Covid-19

Quick fixes will not stop spread of Covid-19

When an elderly couple who tested positive for Covid-19 were found not to have told the truth about their visit to a virus hotspot before they got ill -- vitally important information in the midst of an outbreak -- the whole country panicked.

People started to fear that such irresponsibility by one or two people could lead to a crisis, similar to how the super spreader in South Korea turned the city of Daegu into a living hell.

Moreover, the mass return of undocumented workers from South Korea this week has started to haunt us as some of them ignored quarantine. In one such case, a returnee, who is a Chiang Rai native, took her family to a barbecue restaurant and not only did she brag about the irresponsible act on social media, but she also refused to leave the establishment when asked to do so by the distraught restaurant owner. Her reason? She said she had already passed the fever screening at the airport.

Whether she did so out of naivety, ignorance, or lack of responsibility, it makes us aware of the loopholes that exist in state control measures. Although those who breach quarantine are subject to a fine of 20,000 baht, as stipulated by Section 51 of Communicable Disease Act BE 2558, netizens also discovered that one returnee was strolling openly on a beach in Phuket and another dancing in a Chiang Mai pub.

I would not be surprised if more people have also ignored these measures, which as we have become aware, came a bit too late as undocumented workers from at-risk spots started to return to Thailand since December.

According to the newly issued measures, some undocumented workers who pass fever screening on arrival can go home and place themselves in voluntary isolation. Such measures place the burden on the public and medical personnel in certain provinces as they have to stay alert.

It's clear that people don't really try to learn. Neither does the government. But what can we expect from the government when a few lawmakers in the coalition camp went to parliament the day after they returned from high-risk countries?

And while the government has put in place control measures, albeit inefficient, for Thai workers returning from South Korea, it seems to be too soft on foreign tourists. For some reason, the government has put the number of at-risk countries at four, leaving out some potentially dangerous countries.

Like many Thais, I have no doubt about the devotion of medical staff, especially those who are working hard to fight against the virus. However, I do doubt those high in the decision-making hierarchy.

Instead of using preventive measures to curb the spread of the virus and alleviate the burden of medical staff in the country, policymakers, as usual, think quick fixes will work magic to wipe the virus away from this country.

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda came up with the bright idea to spend 200 million baht to hold mask-making workshops in every village across the country. He dubbed his new project "alternative masks".

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana wowed the public when he proposed another cash handout, between 1,000-2,000 baht, to around 14 million low-income people. Unrelated to the three phases of the controversial Chim Shop Chai scheme and regular cash payments for the poor, this cash handout aims to boost the local economy which has experienced a slowdown from the Covid-19 outbreak.

The worst part of this situation relates to face mask shortages. Medical staff in hospitals across the country have started to complain on social media that they don't have enough face masks to properly and safely perform their tasks. They are the people who are at high risk when treating patients who might have the dreaded virus. While the government injects money for free masks for members of the public, despite a debate if masks are necessary for those who are healthy, it pretends not to hear the cry for help from medical personnel. Needless to say, this is a disaster waiting to happen.

The government should face the fact that it should not attach importance to tourism, at least not when the world is dealing with the Covid-19 threat. Amend the list of at-risk countries and get tough on travellers. Prevention is a better cure, always.

At present, the number of infections in Thailand, stands at 48, with 31 recoveries, and one death. This figure might still be considered low compared to other countries in the region. However, recklessness, irresponsibility, and clumsiness on the government's part may cause the situation to get worse and lead to a wide-scale outbreak, if not an outright epidemic.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai

Columnist

Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.


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