Reopening too quickly?

Reopening too quickly?

The plan for a speedy reopening of the country, as targeted by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, represents a major challenge, not only for the government but for all Thais.

During a live TV broadcast to the nation on Wednesday, the PM said Thailand would fully reopen within the next 120 days -- in around mid-October -- despite the risk of a further rise in Covid-19 infections.

The premier urged all government organisations and provinces to start preparing for the reopening, including by accelerating the progress of the inoculation programme.

He said the early reopening is necessary to avoid an economic catastrophe. For a year and a half, vast numbers of people had lost their ability to earn an income due to lockdown or anti-virus curbs.

Gen Prayut has pinned his hopes on the Phuket "Sandbox" programme which is scheduled to start on July 1. He is due to visit the island resort province later this month to oversee the preparations for the big day. If all goes well, other tourism centres could follow suit swiftly to welcome visitors, he said.

Is the plan too bold? Many seem to think so. Some, particularly those in the medical field, have voiced opposition to the speedy reopening, largely because new Covid-19 infection cases and deaths that surged after the notorious Thong Lor cluster in April remain high while the vaccine rollout is slow.

New infections yesterday as reported by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration stood at 3,129 with 30 deaths, with no sign of any decline.

As of yesterday, 5.1 million people had received their first jab while only 1.8 million had had both shots. At a glance, such a slow pace may not allow the government to be too ambitious.

Yet Gen Prayut was confident about the availability of vaccines from now on. He said the government has secured contracts for 105.5 million doses to be delivered this year, beyond its initial target, and it would continue to seek additional supplies in 2022.

Based on the government's current plan, about 10 million vaccines will have been administered by August, and by early October almost 50 million people will have had their first shot.

Setting availability aside, the prime minister has to ensure that there is no vaccine politics, as seen over the past weeks.

On top of that, vaccine distribution must be fair, inclusive and efficient. All efforts must be made to carry out active case finding.

More importantly, if the prime minister really wants to push his agenda, he must understand there is no room for mistakes and recklessness.

Cases like the Thong Lor cluster which occurred because some state officials were negligent must not be repeated.

In fact, the prime minister has failed to meet public expectations by not pursuing blatant cases like the Thong Lor cluster and migrant labour smuggling networks. The culprits have not been punished to set an example.

When the government tells the people to keep their guard up high, it must do the same.

This means practising what it preaches and building up public confidence. As the countdown to the reopening has begun, the PM and the government must make an all-out effort to learn from past mistakes.

If not, the lofty agenda will only be a pipe dream.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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