Govt drops ball again as Covid deaths mount

Govt drops ball again as Covid deaths mount

The government seems to be pinning its hopes for salvation on big lots of AstraZeneca vaccines scheduled to be rolled out in June.

Its very survival, however, could depend on the number of daily coronavirus deaths.

As fatalities hit a record high of 31 yesterday, the government is in a race against the death toll and increasing despair.

And the odds are against it.

Make no mistake. As the new wave of Covid-19 outbreaks rages on, people are desperately hoping that the government will get its act together and start to show that it can get on top of the situation.

The reality does not look optimistic.

It's not just the death rate that has been accelerating, rising from two on April 17 to more than 30 yesterday, but the number of patients with severe symptoms. Those on respirators are also high at nearly 1,000.

With medical resources and equipment being used up and personnel succumbing to fatigue, the death toll is expected to keep rising.

With each death, people will be reminded that the situation might not be this grim had the government been more proactive and secured vaccines more quickly.

The grief, anger and resentment are becoming insurmountable. This time it is a matter of life and death which the government can't casually attribute to political games anymore.

The fumble in vaccine procurement is inexcusable. It would have been forgivable if the government misread the situation and felt it could have kept the outbreaks under control. But its failure to recognise the risks and manage them, especially amid an obvious health crisis, is a disgrace.

For some reasons, the government seems to prioritise the glory of becoming a production hub for Covid-19 in the region more than the urgent need to secure enough and diverse vaccines for the population.

It placed its bets almost exclusively on AstraZeneca even though it knew it would take more than a year after the deal for the jabs to be produced locally.

For reasons best known to itself, the government did not seem to actively try to procure more vaccines even though it has secured only 64 million doses, not enough for 60-70% of the population to be inoculated to achieve herd immunity.

Strangely enough, the government simply sat on the apparently inadequate amount for months. It was not until the new outbreak began and criticism especially from leading business groups and organisations became extremely loud that it started to say it would find more vaccines from other sources and allowing the private sector to help with the rollout.

Worse, the government never owned up to the perceived vaccine mistake. It never acknowledged that it could have miscalculated the situation and made the wrong decision.

The recalcitrance might be due to its fear of becoming a victim of political games. But the downside of the hard-line approach is it is now seen as being too stubborn and out of touch with the situation to inspire trust.

The lack of confidence does not help its situation.

The government now said it plans to inoculate 50 million people by the end of the year.

To do that, it needs to secure 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, 64 million of which have been secured from Oxford/AstraZeneca while another 36 million so-called alternative jabs remain up in the air.

The problem is not just that it has little credibility left when it comes to vaccine procurement but it also seems to be falling into the same trap of risk management failure.

Why stop at 100 million doses? Herd immunity is a moving target. It mainly depends on the vaccines' rate of efficacy and the virus's reproduction rate. If these rates change, the government is likely to need more than 100 million doses to achieve its goal.

All things considered, it seems the government is setting its vaccine goal at the minimum again despite warnings and past lessons.

Is it an inability to learn? Otherwise, it would appear the powers-that-be are not putting people's lives and death at the heart of their policies and actions as should be the case.

We will also probably have to think about booster shots soon after finishing the first round. Also, Pfizer has moved on to developing a single pill home cure for Covid-19 that could be available at the end of the year.

The government will have to think beyond vaccines but it does not seem to have the foresight to do so.

For now, it probably hopes to reinvent itself comes June. But that is a month away. With no hope in sight for vaccines, each death brings agony and ever growing anger. The government's health is in crisis. The problem is it does not seem to know that.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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