The government will postpone the Songkran holiday and ban large public gatherings, including entertainment venues, sport and education activities, in fresh efforts to handle the spread of Covid-19.
Still, it insists that the country has not yet entered Stage 3, when community transmission of the virus becomes widespread.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, meanwhile, called for calm and assured that efforts to delay the spread of the virus were not in vain.
“The virus will be with us for some time. I understand the difficulties and the pain, but we must be patient in fighting and surviving this crisis. I thank everyone who has been working and the Thai people. Thailand will prevail,” said Gen Prayut who appeared in a televised broadcast.
He said the number of confirmed cases rose sharply over two days but fake news had exaggerated the numbers. This had led some people to go out panic buying. He insisted that there was no need to hoard goods.
Gen Prayut defended the government’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, saying all parties had taken prompt action including putting in place the screening of patients, mobilising all resources for testing and treatment, and boosting morale among medical and public health personnel.
“I consider medical and public health personnel to be vital in the efforts to contain the outbreak and provide care and treatment. The government is giving them its full support,” he said.
According to Gen Prayut, the government’s actions will not be effective unless people obey the rules. He stressed that the public should strictly follow health guidelines including avoiding travel to at-risk countries and observing strict personal hygiene.
Speaking after a meeting of the socalled Covid-19 Administration Centre, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Kreangam said the coronavirus outbreak remains at Stage 2, where transmission is limited.
He said that to reduce or delay transmission the government will need to keep people from being exposed to the virus. Postponing the upcoming long
Songkran holiday, banning large public gatherings and closing entertainment and sporting venues will therefore be carried out.
According to Mr Wissanu, it is agreed the Songkran holiday should be suspended to deter people from travelling as this could increase the chances of the virus spreading.
The cabinet is expected to approve today the scrapping of the long holiday from April 13-15. Substitute holiday dates will be considered when the situation improves, he said.
Earlier, authorities in several provinces decided to cancel Songkran celebrations to reduce the risk of transmission. The Songkran festival is one of the most-celebrated events on the Thai calendar.
Mr Wissanu said schools, universities or sporting venues which attract large crowds and involve close contact will be closed temporarily. Closures
could proceed as early as tomorrow following cabinet approval.
Some venues may be permitted to open but the number of people allowed will have to be worked out to be sure it is safe for them to gather, he said. However, he noted that gathering restrictions will not apply to restaurants or shops.
He said these outlets are required to implement health safety measures such as checking the temperature of customers, seating them at least one metre apart and providing them with hand sanitisers. Violating public health hygiene regulations is illegal under the Communicable Diseases Control Act, he added.
The deputy prime minister said government agencies will also stagger working hours and lunch breaks to avoid overcrowding on public transport and, if possible, people will be encouraged to work from home.
“The prime minister is stressing that handling Covid-19 is the top priority. Dealing with its impacts on the economy or tourism is secondary. Right now we have to protect the people and the situation is still evolving,” he said.
While insisting that the country has not entered Stage 3 yet, Mr Wissanu said the government is preparing for the worst.
All hospitals and clinics, both public and private, at all levels throughout the country, were on standby and all doctors, nurses, and medical personnel including retirees will be mobilised to handle Covid-19, he said.
Production of face masks and hand sanitisers is being ramped up with the Commerce Ministry assuring that the daily production of face masks is close to 2 million, up from 1.3 million.
Regulations are being relaxed by the Industry Ministry and the Energy Ministry to allow ethanol manufacturers to speed up production, he said, adding that several countries have also offered to donate masks and medical supplies to fight Covid-19.
On the government’s plan to cancel visas-on-arrival and visa-free travel, he said the administration is ready to proceed and none of the affected countries have objected.
Thai ambassadors overseas have also been asked to head task forces to help Thai people there, he added.