Payoff probe goes nowhere
More than two months after the government launched a probe into alleged extortion of hoteliers in Pattaya who wanted to turn their premises into state quarantine facilities, the investigation appears to have gone nowhere. Or at least the public has not been informed of the results or the progress if any has been made. It's not clear if the probe is still on.
When the hoteliers concerned made complaints late in May, the government and the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) acted swiftly, drawing praise as well as high expectations.
The government, in its bid to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission, has imposed state quarantine for all returning Thais and to make sure that the facilities are adequate, it encouraged hoteliers to join the project. The government is offering 1,000 baht per day per quarantined person to participating hoteliers. But hoteliers said they were contacted by officials demanding a share of that amount. This made several operators unwilling to join the scheme while demand for the facilities, known as "alternative state quarantine" venues is high because the government wants more Thais to return from abroad.
The hotel operators said in May they had evidence, including video clips, identifying the extortionists. They did not name anyone in the scam, but dropped strong hints that they were from the government. The government initially promised that the probe results would be quick.
Two months' time sounds reasonable for those carrying out the inquiry to come up with some results. Why the delay?
At the same time, the government last month suggested that all returnees should pay for their own own quarantine expenses in order to reduce the strain on the government's finances, especially as the number of returnees is rising. About 60,000 Thais have come home to date.
According to CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin, the average cost of a 14-day stay at state quarantine venues is about 14,000 baht, not including medicines. But it's understood the costs that returnees have to cover can be higher depending on the hotels' rates.
"Those who can afford to stay at alternative accommodation, such as upscale hotels, are encouraged to do so," said the spokesman.
The government introduced compulsory state quarantine for all returnees in early April when infection cases soared. But now that the threat of virus seems manageable, with no local transmission for almost two months, it's probably time for the CCSA and the government to give more options to the returnees, to make quarantine or self-isolation more affordable while not compromising on standards.
In fact, the case of the Egyptian military airman who tested positive but breached isolation rules while staying in Rayong, wreaking havoc on tourism in the eastern province last month, should be a case study since the virus did not spread as feared. Hundreds of people who were at stores at the same time as the Egyptian and also the hotel he stayed at all tested negative, possibly because people in the areas practised distancing and mask-wearing. Whatever the reason, the CCSA or health authorities should consider new options like quarantine operated by communities under the supervision of heath authorities, and adopt an efficient tracing system. These could start with returnees from countries with low infection rates, for example.
Meanwhile, the extortion investigation should be finalised swiftly and the results made public.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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