Inept govt never learns from its Covid blunders
The government's biggest mistake was not its decision to not join Covax. It was not even underestimating the Covid-19 pandemic and its failure to secure enough vaccines of sufficient variety to fight possible virus mutations.
True, these missteps were grave and probably unforgivable. Still its biggest mistake, its fatal flaw which has led us to where new infections and fatalities hit new highs almost daily has been its inability to learn, to perform an honest self-review and make corrections.
Whether it's the nature of the ultraconservative mindset which prefers things to stay unchanged or conflicts of interest that prompted things to proceed in ways they should not have, the level of rigidity shown by the government as it deals with probably the most serious public health threat the country has ever experienced is astonishing.
It is the inflexibility, or unwillingness to take into account opinions that come from people outside its own clique, that caused the government to not only make some wrong decisions but also to keep ploughing forward in the same direction and compelling it to repeat blunder after blunder, again and again.
Is it time to accept that the administration has put too much baggage on itself to prevail over the pandemic?
Is it time to face the truth that the government has become too entrenched in its attitude -- too bogged down in and crippled by its past mistakes -- to fight the quickly evolving coronavirus?
Is it time to realise we are being left to cope with the epidemic on our own?
These questions are becoming more relevant as lockdown measures seem to have produced no positive effects.
Hopes were not high. Most people realised that the restrictions, though painful to businesses and damaging to the economy, would not put an end to the outbreak. At least, however, there was an expectation that the curfew and partial ban on people's mobility would help flatten the new infections and fatalities curve. At the very least, the stricter curbs should give some breathing space to the frontline medical personnel whose capacity has been stretched beyond limit.
The hope hasn't materialised. The infections and fatalities graphs continue to climb.
The trends are not surprising. Without enough vaccines of adequate efficacy, active track-and-trace efforts and effective isolation and treatment programmes, lockdowns are almost a meaningless exercise.
Alas, the government does not seem prepared with any of the necessary tools. Its vaccine rollout is all over the place. While new infections are being reported at a rate of about 400 cases per hour, free screening remains limited, offered at a few places in Bangkok for a few days a week and with a limited quota of some 1,500 a day. As for medical facilities and treatment, the photos of people lying on the street waiting to be admitted to hospitals should show how overwhelmed the public health system has become.
Even with rapid antigen tests, it will not be possible to track down most or all of the people who have contracted the virus and effectively isolate them within two weeks. If that is the case, then it is likely we will see new clusters and outbreaks as soon as we reopen.
What do we do then? Try to stay alive by staying in lockdown indefinitely? Let the sick die off? Just let the virus take its toll and pray that a cure will be found some day?
What is the point of the government if all it can do is impose restrictions and find no solutions?
"Have you offered me even a single bottle of alcohol sanitiser?" a female food seller is seen in a video clip asking a police officer who reprimanded her for opening her shop beyond the mandated hours.
"You ask for so many things from people but you have given nothing. You asked for our cooperation but here you are treating us as if we are criminals," the shopkeeper said in the widely circulated clip.
The conversation seems to summarise how ordinary people are feeling at the moment. They feel deserted and betrayed by their own government. They feel they have to fight to stay alive and afloat by themselves. They feel the government not only does not help but almost goes out of its way to add more of a burden to their hardship.
Warnings about the government's over-reliance on AstraZeneca and its misguided pride in having the vaccine produced here by the royally owned biopharma firm SiamBioscience were sounded as early as January this year. The government did not listen.
Warnings that the Delta variant would become the prevalent strain and the government's main vaccine Sinovac would not be effective against it also came way before the situation got this serious. But the government did not seem to listen.
The government never admits its mistakes. It can't learn. That is why it has led us to this heartbreaking point where no end is in sight.
Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.