Govt dials in to 'reopen' from Planet Clueless

Govt dials in to 'reopen' from Planet Clueless

Are Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his team from another planet? Or is the government's language different from ours?

Why is it increasingly difficult to get a grasp of what the PM and his communication team are trying to say?

"I am, therefore, setting a goal for us to be able to declare Thailand fully open within 120 days from today," the PM said in a nationally televised broadcast last week.

This should mean the countdown has begun. Why would he go on national TV and say "today" otherwise?

And that is what many media professionals understood. They started producing graphics showing the countdown -- how many days are left before the reopening, how many shots have been administered and how many more doses must be given before the big day.

Except that does not seem to be what the PM and his team meant.

The next day, Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow said the reopening in 120 days would start on July 1.

Who on earth would "starting today" mean starting in two weeks?

Besides, what the PM vowed to do seems contrary to what common sense is telling us. Reopening the country when the number of new infections still stands at more than 3,000 a day? And less than 10% of people in the country have been vaccinated?

At best, it will be a stretch for people to share the vision, let alone cooperate to hit the 120-day goal. At worst, those who are struggling to steer clear of Covid-19 as well as making ends meet would just assume that the declaration was just more government talk, to be clarified and modified later.

True to form, when pressed by the opposition in the parliament about the reopening preparedness, Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha said the PM made the bold statement just to boost public morale.

That is serious spin for a rather straightforward announcement.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri stretched it further when he clarified that the PM's announcement was not a countdown but a "broad principle" for provincial authorities to prepare. Whoever is ready can reopen first without having to wait for the 120-day deadline.

So the 120-day goal was what? Nothing? Just a thought on national television which people can interpret whichever way they want?

Seeing how the reopening-the-country-in-120-days could be spun around so fancifully, it's no surprise the government spent billions of baht purchasing AstraZeneca vaccines without knowing when exactly the jabs would be delivered.

The government said they agreed for June deliveries. It also mapped the inoculation rollout plan starting June 7.

But hey, it's just like the countdown for reopening the country in four months from today doesn't mean "today", but July 1. When the jabs didn't show up as planned, the government said June did not mean June 1 or June 7 when the rollout began but any day in June.

And there we go. Many seniors and people with underlying diseases are still languishing at home waiting for an SMS to tell them when they will be rescheduled for vaccination.

On the planet where the government lives, priority groups probably do not mean you are in the queue to receive certain things first. It could mean that since you are old and sick and have behaved so well -- rushing to register on the now cancelled Mor Prom "Doctor Ready" app as told and not raising hell after your appointments were indefinitely delayed -- the government will tend to you last or whenever it is convenient.

Maybe the government could launch more Covid-19 apps for them to figure out as they wait for the vaccine.

What is most baffling about the PM's declaration is that it seems totally out of touch with the public mood at present and not exactly consistent with the crucial mission during this time of crisis which is to curb the outbreak and expedite vaccination.

Reopening the country is important but it's secondary to keeping people safe. The PM earlier declared mass inoculation as a national agenda item. It would be logical for him to stay focused on this all important task.

Set the goal for itself, not others. And prove the government can achieve what it said it could do for once.

When enough people have been vaccinated, the PM could reopen the country. He could let people go to concerts and stop wearing masks in public, like those in other countries where vaccination has gone well.

To jump ahead and set the goal for reopening the country when the vaccination drive remains extremely sketchy seems out of place.

But then again, the PM and his team could be operating from another planet. And that planet's name must be either Clueless, or Careless.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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