Government efforts to solve the shortage and high prices of face masks took a hit on Friday after Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul had to apologise for saying that a group of foreigners should be "kicked out of Thailand" for refusing to wear them.
Mr Anutin took to Facebook to say sorry after he criticised farang, the Thai word for "Westerners", suggesting they had put the general public at risk amid the coronavirus outbreak and should be deported.
"People should accept when they are given face masks. They should not refuse as this is helping to prevent disease. [They] should not ignore it," he said, Mr Anutin said while giving an interview to the media at BTS Siam, where the media had been invited to film him hand out masks to commuters.
"Ai puak farang [those damned farang]. We should inform the [foreign] embassies they are not wearing masks. We are giving the masks away but they do not accept them. If they are like this they must be kicked out of Thailand," he said, adding that Chinese and Asians accepted the masks but not Westerners.
"We don't know which countries foreigners visit before they come to Thailand," he wrote later in his apology on Facebook. "Their previous stop could pose a health risk for the kingdom.
"I apologise for it and thank every foreigner who cooperates," Mr Anutin wrote.
The army also came under fire on Friday after it was accused of failing to uphold sanitary standards when packing face masks to be sold under the government's low-price scheme.
Social media users had pointed out that officers were seen in pictures packing the face masks without wearing gloves or face masks themselves.
Quartermaster General Lt Gen Pitsanu Boonraksa said the soldiers had washed their hands with sanitary gel, but from now on, the soldiers would be equipped with caps, gloves and face masks.
The first batch of 20,000 face masks was snapped up in 30 minutes after Government House began providing low-price masks and sanitising gel to the public.
The subsidised face masks and sanitising gel will also be available from Saturday at the Commerce Ministry on Sanambinnam Road in Nonthaburi, said government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat. The service will be rolled out at other official buildings as soon as possible, she added.
Meanwhile, Dr Suthep Phetmak, an inspector-general of the Public Health Department, said that among the 138 Thais who have returned from Wuhan, two men have begun displaying suspicious symptoms.
RAdm Kerdsak Weerayothin, director of Queen Sirikit Hospital in Chon Buri province, said another four Thais who had previously reported respiratory problems are recuperating. However, they will still have to complete the 14-day quarantine at Sattahipalong navy hospital.