Sathit vows swift Rayong rehab
Deputy health minister under microscope after Covid-19-infected Egyptian airman was allowed to wander around town
Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha has stepped into the spotlight to promise the people of Rayong that as one of their MPs and a key component of the nation's health team, he will do his best to rebuild confidence in the province after the recent fiasco involving a Covid-19-infected Egyptian airman.
Mr Sathit said he regretted what happened and apologised to the people of Rayong for the impact it has had on them during a period when the local economy was on its way to recovery.
Rayong suffered a severe setback in its efforts to reopen businesses and attract domestic tourists again after a group of Egyptian airmen, one of whom tested positive for Covid-19 after arrival, left their accommodation and walked freely around town. Many have slammed the government for exempting the airmen from state quarantine while all other arrivals from abroad have had no choice but to spend 14-days in a state quarantine facility.
The deputy minister apologised to residents and entrepreneurs in Rayong who have been affected by the incident and pledged to do his utmost to restore normality and happiness to Rayong as soon as possible.
He also announced his plan to develop a "Rayong model" for disease control. If proven to be successful, the model will be rolled out nationwide.
"We will get through this situation together with strong cooperation from all sectors,'' he said.
The deputy minister said he is focused on providing support to authorities conducting an investigation into the incident, as well as ensuring the Rayong public have access to up-to-date health information.
"The first thing that had to be done was to test anyone at risk of contracting Covid-19 [from the incident]. Results have been gradually coming out and no one has been found to be infected so far. Over 1,000 people have tested negative,'' he said.
However, he said people at high risk must stay in quarantine despite testing negative. If they were in close contact with the infected Egyptian airman on July 10 and got tested around four days later, or on July 13 or 14, the results of their tests should be reliable but as the incubation period is around two to seven days there is still a need for caution, he said.
Mr Sathit said people who just travelled to and from Rayong between July 8–11 do not have to quarantine, although anyone who is concerned they might have been in the same areas as the infected person can contact the provincial public health or disease control departments for further information or to arrange a test.
Speaking about Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the deputy minister said the premier helped rebuild confidence in Rayong by visiting at-risk places such as the Passione Shopping Destination mall where the infected airman went shopping.
The deputy minister said he and the provincial governor of Rayong were planning the reopening of schools and talks will be held with entrepreneurs, tourism associations and chambers of commerce on how to draw tourists back to the province.
"Today we must continue to rebuild confidence, but we need public health data to help to make people feel confident in Rayong again," the deputy minister said.
"I think Rayong will be back to normal at the latest by July 24 if there are no infections found … places such as tourist sites, hotels and academic institutions will gradually recover and various events will be organised to help stimulate tourism.
"As a Rayong local, I will meet the prime minister again to establish clear [rehabilitation] guidelines. From what happened, I think the lesson that we have learned is that we still have loopholes and a lackadaisical effort at the operational level. Privileges were given but as soon as we were alerted to this, we issued an order to prevent similar breaches from happening again."
Regarding political attacks against the government after the Rayong incident, Mr Sathit said he deemed the jabs normal and called on critics to help the government figure out how to restore the province.
"Political groups can express their political views and criticise the government, whether in parliament or the media or even on the streets,'' said the Rayong MP from the Democrat Party. "I always listen to them since I have been on both the government and opposition sides. I understand how they operate but I want to call on them to avoid vulgarities. We must respect one another."
Born in Rayong, Mr Sathit, 53, is now a deputy leader of the Democrats overseeing the Central Plains region. The four-time Rayong MP graduated from Rakhamhaeng University with a BA in law and Burapha University with a MA in public administration. In 2018, he completed a PhD in business administration at King Mongkut's University of Technology North Bangkok.
Mr Sathit worked as a lawyer before entering politics. In 2001, he became an MP for the first time after winning an election in Rayong.