End rule by decree

End rule by decree

Thailand has lifted many entry barriers for tourists, allowed people to remove face masks in open-air places, ended midnight closing of nightlife entertainment venues and let almost all activities resume.

The government also expects to declare Covid-19 endemic this month despite postponing its planned July 1 declaration.

Nonetheless, the government insists it cannot lift the emergency decree, claiming the special law is essential for Covid control.

From a disease-control perspective, the emergency decree seems unnecessary. The nation's communicable disease control law and related public health as well as provincial administration legislation are sufficient to control the situation.

The government first declared an emergency situation in March 2020, when infections were rising rapidly. The law has since been renewed 18 times.

The emergency decree has been used primarily to enforce the designation of disease-control zones and regulation of activities there. The law also was used to roll out curfews and temporarily close public places or private premises deemed high-risk infection sites such as gyms and shopping malls.

Crucially, it was used to bar public gatherings, ostensibly to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Many have linked invocation of the decree with what were at the time growing anti-government protests, asserting that rather than a Covid-19 containment measure the decree was -- and remains -- a convenient excuse to crack down on political protest and lessen legal scrutiny of the government's own actions.

Over the past two years, about 1,500 protesters have been charged under the emergency decree.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said recently the emergency decree is still needed, although easing of restrictions will continue while the cabinet continues to assess the situation.

He said the emergency decree was invoked to ease government efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 and the special law has been an effective tool in helping to achieve that target.

The premier's reason for maintaining the special law is unconvincing. It is also illogical: How can large-scale social and business activities -- vital to economic recovery -- contribute to that same recovery when a law prohibiting such public gatherings remains in force?

Justification provided by the prime minister compares unfavourably with Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt's solution to designate seven sites where people can legally hold demonstrations in the capital.

Under the governor's plan, rally organisers need seek permission only a few days in advance to comply with the Public Assembly Act and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Regulation Act.

While political activists including anti-government protesters responded positively, concerns were raised about whether the announcement could be overruled by the emergency decree.

Indeed business operators support a proposal to end the emergency decree and replace it with other regulations and practices to prevent new infections.

Kriengkrai Thiennukul, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said revoking the emergency decree will boost the confidence of tourists and investors and in turn increase visitor numbers.

If the government really wants to curb the coronavirus, let the people return to normal, albeit the "new normal" of post-Covid life. Either way, it must lift the emergency decree.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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