Don't build a wall against our own people

Don't build a wall against our own people

A famous quote, "Numbers never lie", comes to my mind often as the country copes with the coranavirus outbreak which all of a sudden has some Thais obsessed with numbers and case counting.

19, 15, 13, 15, 11 (+42) were the number of infections reported over the past five days as of yesterday as released by the Centre of Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

Those numbers attest to the fierce fight of our medical personnel in curbing the disease which has killed nearly 200,000 across the globe since it was detected late last year in China's Wuhan. In Thailand, the virus has so far killed 51.

Day after day, the CCSA has used those "successful" numbers to justify its stringent measures against the virus spread, the lockdown that brought the country to a standstill, with millions left hungry and with no money, and a ban on overseas Thais from returning home. Well, the centre may argue about the word "ban" and try to make us believe it's just a "delay". Whatever; the centre's requirements make it almost impossible for Thais to travel.

The centre is against a large number of Thais coming back at once. It keeps saying the influx would put us at risk (more than a few times we were told the centre "needed to seal the country to save our 65 million Thais"); the quarantine and health facilities are limited and so on. Bizarre as it is, the idea was hypnotically accepted by so many people desperate to be safe from the virus but they forgot that such a decision is just heartless. The CCSA keeps insisting it's no problem for over 10,000 Thais to be hanging around somewhere as it known how stubborn Thais are and how it is a necessity to prevent them from sneaking in which is why the centre closed air travel on April 4, shortly after a commotion involving a group of 158 Thai returnees who were confused about the difference between state quarantine and self-isolation.

I said bizarre because as the government has built an imaginary great wall against its own people, other governments around the world rushed to send planes to pick up their own citizens from Thailand.

Don't they fear their repatriated citizens may increase the risk of people falling ill in their countries? Perhaps, but they must think it's the right thing to do and they may be aware of the fact that the longer the delay, the more complicated repatriation will become.

Even more bizarre is the sight of armed military men guarding border areas in the South to stop Thais crossing over from Malaysia. These returnees, mostly operators of the famous tom yam kung restaurants had no places to go as their businesses were closed after the Malaysian government declared a lockdown.

The centre has limited the quota of returnees to 200 a day (against some 8,000 registrants). I have no idea for how long this fear over the virus spreading from Thai returnees will carry on. But I think we can make use of certain numbers to make a more sensible decision.

We should start with the 158 Thai returnees on April 3. They have completed state quarantine and all tested negative for the virus. Another 22 Thais travelling through the border from Laos last week were also free of the virus.

No, I don't say all Thais coming back are free of coronavirus. That is not possible. But the idea that all Thai returnees are a threat is not true. The infections of Thai returnees as shown in the daily CCSA press conference are still minimal and the overall number should be manageable.

On Friday, CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin boasted that the country's virus testing capacity has surged to 20,000 a day (10,000 in Bangkok, another 10,000 in the provinces). With such capacity, there should be no hysterical fear or attempt to fuel public fear. On the contrary, the government should follow other countries and bring Thais back as soon as possible, provide quick tests, and arrange for mandatory quarantine. The longer they wait for the green light to come home, the higher the chance they will be exposed to the virus.

It's time the government and the CCSA got rid of prejudice and carried out their duty which is to protect all Thais no matter where they are. Treating their own people as if they were non-Thais out of fear they might have the virus is horrible.

After coping with the virus for more than three months, Thais should be mature enough about these things. With the so-called "new normal" -- 100% mask-wearing, hand washing and better hygiene, physical distancing -- while the government whips up active case finding, we should be fine. If anyone is still worried about a rise in infection cases from Thai returnees, take a look at the numbers. Use them wisely and set the logic right.


Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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