High time to come home
The Prayut Chan-o-cha government is making the right move in opening the doors to more Thais stranded overseas. Now the government must accelerate that process to meet demand.
Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin said since April 4, some 4,637 Thais stranded in 27 countries have been repatriated, adding they "are now planning to bring another 7,000 back by the end of this month".
Yet the repatriation target cited by Dr Taweesilp remains small when compared to actual demand. It is reported that over 40,000 Thais stranded abroad have informed the Foreign Ministry though embassies and consular offices that they want to return. But they have not been able to do so because of the government's strict policy of minimising returnee numbers out of fear a large influx could put the country at Covid-19 risk.
The Public Health Ministry at the same time insisted that its health and quarantine facilities are limited. The government has subsequently set a daily quota for returnees at a maximum of 200 for those travelling by air and 350 for those crossing by land.
Obviously, the quota is incompatible with the number of those wishing to return. Without jobs, money, places to live or the ability to take care of themselves, as is the case with some students, frustrations, understandably, are growing.
Under current procedures, the prospective returnees are obliged to register for repatriation. Whether their registration is ultimately successful depends on the availability of flights. The process is tough given the high level of competition.
To become eligible for registration, prospective returnees are required to obtain fit-to-fly or fit-to-travel medical documents within 72 hours of departing. The document, which is essentially meaningless, is viewed as a cheap trick to complicate returning home.
If the government and the CCSA are sincere, they must immediately abolish the quota, while fit-to-travel requirements must go.
The reasons are clear. Prolonged stays create logistical complications. Flights have become rare and prohibitively expensive. Numerous Thais are now illegal migrants in foreign lands, with poor living conditions. An extended stay abroad means they are more greatly exposed to the risk of infection. On top of that, the situation has changed when compared to the time when the coronavirus infection rate peaked in Thailand.
In his briefing yesterday, Dr Taweesilp said most patients have been discharged, and only 220 are still in hospital. With such figures, the public health ministry should be able to handle more cases. More importantly, it must be aware that not all the returnees are infected. In fact, as statistics show, very few -- 90 as of yesterday or less than 1% of the total returnees -- have tested positive for the virus.
Viewed in this light, delays are no longer acceptable. If the government or the CCSA has no idea what to do, or how to start, look at the Indian government, which has set a good example.
Early this week, the world's second-most populous country revealed a plan to deploy commercial jets, military transport planes and naval warships to bring back hundreds of thousands of its citizens stranded worldwide. The first phase is estimated to help about 1.8 million Indian citizens return home. The trips are open to anyone who is asymptomatic.
The CCSA may not have to copy the Indian plan but at the very least it could ease up on the senseless restrictions.
Doing so, however, is going to require a bit of bravery.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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