Spare 'Toon' from carping over his run
With the dark shadow of the Omicron variant looming, the year 2022, which is just a week away, was never going to be a year of untold happiness to begin with for most people in the world, including Thailand.
The coronavirus variant has now spread to more than 100 countries and is the dominant variant among new infections in the United States and several other countries.
In Thailand, more than 200 cases had been confirmed as of Friday. The figures will pick up soon, but the pace will not, hopefully, be as fast as that witnessed in several Western countries because most Thais wear their face masks when they are outdoors and do not think their freedom has been taken away when wearing them. Most also will willingly get vaccinated.
The government's decision last week to reimpose quarantine on fully inoculated foreign arrivals from 63 countries and territories considered as low risk under the "Test&Go" programme, instead of shutting the door on all arrivals as seen in some countries, seems to be based on economic judgment to save the hard-hit tourism sector which is just starting to recover and the belief that the health system is capable of containing the Omicron variant.
Whether this decision is right or not, will be known pretty soon.
But what is certain is that the over-optimistic predictions by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) that up to 400,000 foreign tourists will have visited Thailand by year-end since the reopening of the country on Nov 1 and up to 18 million tourists next year will be shattered due to Omicron concerns.
The year 2022 will be another rough one for people working in the tourism and night entertainment sector such as bars and pubs. Forget about the prospect that the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) will allow the reopening of these venues on Jan 16.
Millions of people who have been relying on the 50:50 co-payment scheme to pay for their food and other necessities are likely to be more sparing over their spending for the next two months at least as the government has decided to suspend the scheme and resume it again in March and April.
With consumers spending less, tens of thousands small retailers who benefit from the scheme will find their earnings cut. No explanation from the government about why the scheme will resume in March. Is the government broke?
The only group of people who do not feel the economic pain are government officials because they still have their jobs and salaries paid for by suffering taxpayers.
As far as the government is concerned, its political stability will be put to more tests in parliament by the opposition which appears to bent on playing games to force Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to dissolve parliament and call a snap general election.
The game is to stay away from parliament or refuse to declare their presence in the chamber to render the collapse of House meetings due to lack of a quorum.
This means government chief whips must work harder to make sure there are enough government MPs in the chamber, especially when there is an important bill to be debated.
But the task is easier said than done due to internal conflict in the core government party, the Palang Pracharat Party, between the prime minister and former agriculture minister Thamanat Prompow.
Outside parliament, street protests by anti-establishment groups demanding the repeal of Section 112 of the Criminal Code or the lese majeste law and the release of detained protest leaders are expected to increase in conjunction with political games in parliament to destabilise the government.
A change of government after the election is seen as a means to resolve several issues in one go such as the lese majeste law and the fate of the detained protest leaders.
The political divide between pro- and anti-monarchy factions appears to have dipped to a new low as witnessed by the tens of thousands of reactions to the proposed 109km charity run to be organised by rock singer Toon Bodyslam from Jan 1 to Feb 28 to raise funds for 109 Mathayom 3 students so they can carry on their study at vocational schools.
The most common questions asked by online critics is "Why Run? Isn't it the government's responsibility to make sure students are educated?"
Some even suggested the charity run was intended to promote the monarchy, citing the 109 km distance, which they interpret numerically as stemming from King Rama 10 and King Rama 9. Another suggested that Toon should join the campaign to rewrite the constitution to make it mandatory for the government to provide free education to all students who want to learn.
The questions are legitimate, without doubt. But what's wrong with the run, which is non-political and purely for a good cause to help students in distress.
Yes, the government is responsible for providing free education to all Thais. But not everyone can study in school, for various reasons. Some are too poor to afford the travel from home or afford lodging expenses. Others may have to help families to make ends meet.
What's wrong with Toon helping these 109 students to fulfill their dreams? What's wrong if someone is offering a helping hand to a sick person lying on a footpath? Should we leave the patient unattended and wait for the government to come to his rescue because it is its responsibility as suggested by those extreme critics?
Thai society will be a more peaceful and livable place if we are more humane and offer a helping hand, if we can, to those in distress.
More challenges are lying ahead the coming year, and surely these are more important than quarreling about Toon's good cause.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.