Blame stampede to the provinces on govt ineptness

Blame stampede to the provinces on govt ineptness

It's not just the stock market that plunges to a new low almost every day, it's the Prayut Chan-o-cha government as well.

As infections rise in a worryingly steep curve, the government continues to run around like a headless chicken. It can't provide help for doctors and nurses battling the disease on the front lines. It has failed to come up with proactive measures to contain the spread. It does not even have a coherent strategy. A semi-lockdown that allows people to move from one province to another? A request for people to go into self-isolation without any means to enforce or monitor it?

As the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) ordered all malls and markets to close for three weeks to slow the Covid-19 spread, about 80,000 wage earners and migrant workers rushed to go home.

Couldn't the government foresee the aftermath of this policy? Apparently not, as on the same day that the BMA announced the closure of public spaces, the government spokeswoman told reporters to beware of misinformation.

People with access to information would have realised that a lockdown of some sort was inevitable after the daily infection rate jumped to over 100. Data from other countries, Italy in particular, shows the same trend.

With that knowledge in mind, it should have been natural to plan ahead. If the government wants people to stay put, to isolate themselves in their places and move around as little as possible, it has to find measures to support those who can't afford to do so.

It's not difficult to imagine what it must be like to be among the urban poor. Self-isolation may sound easy, even fancy, for the affluent. They have the physical space and financial resources to entertain themselves. Now imagine a small shelter probably for a few people. And no wage. How would that make self-isolation possible?

The Bank of Thailand and financial authorities did come up with funds to support liquidity and corporate bonds on Sunday. However, when asked about financial assistance for the poor who are evidently heading back to their home provinces, they said to wait for the cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

But the people are moving out of Bangkok now and Covid-19 does not wait for red tape.

While the government plays catch-up, people seem to be left to fend for themselves. During the last two days, the number of new confirmed cases jumped by 310 cases, more than 190 of which cannot yet be traced.

Does that mean we are at the stage of community transmission? The government won't say. Again, it looks like citizens will have to figure out for themselves what the numbers mean and what they have to do.

Considering the delayed responses and seemingly lax measures launched with no follow-up mechanism, it's becoming questionable whether the government is still trying to contain the outbreak.

By letting workers in Bangkok and nearby provinces go to their home countries or provinces in droves, is the government allowing herd immunity to build up without realising?

What is most hurtful is while the authorities are groping their way through dealing with a spreading, potentially fatal virus, it's the poor and underprivileged who are the most vulnerable to infection. Without decisive leadership, a clear vision and effective mechanisms to contain the virus, these people will end up becoming a human shield, if such a thing is still possible during the outbreak.

By not putting into place financial relief measures for low-wage and migrant workers before closing down malls and markets, it was predictable that mass movement would follow. The chain reaction was very straightforward. Did the government fail to see it or is it no longer thinking?

To be honest, the government's performance in the face of the crisis has been so pathetic people have stopped lambasting it. It has begun to feel like criticising an invalid.

It would be nice if we could just ignore our clumsy authorities and take care of ourselves and one another. But the truth is we can't. And the government is putting the health, and ultimately lives, of millions at risk as it muddles through the crisis.

At this point, the only thing we can do is to hope against hope that the government will come to its senses and get its act together. Get rid of ministers who can't provide surgical masks to hospitals or implement effective public health responses. The country has never been in more urgent need of a team of professionals. Those who are not up to the task should clear the way.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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