The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Sunday played down a proposal that free Covid-19 treatment for infected gamblers and illegal returnees be scrapped.
CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin said the Public Health Ministry would adhere to the regulations involving Covid-19 medical expenses and who should pick up the tab. It could not pick and choose who to charge depending on their conduct.
The proposal was raised by Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul who suggested no free medical services should be given to Covid-19 infected people who broke the laws and exposed the public to infection risks.
"As for medical expenses, we'll have to follow the ministry's regulations," Dr Taweesilp said.
"We cannot divide or subdivide [patients]. For those with health insurance, it depends on the terms. For migrant workers, the matter will be considered on a case-by-case basis."
However, the CCSA spokesman said people with ill-intent who hide information should be held accountable and the ministry will explain the issue in detail.
Dr Taweesilp said the punishment is intended as a deterrent amid concerns that drastic action could discourage people from telling the truth and undermine contact tracing efforts which are vital to keeping infections in check.
Mr Anutin proposed the idea on his Facebook page on Saturday as many new Covid-19 cases were linked to illegal gambling dens and Thai returnees who sneak across the border.
The idea was lambasted by Thira Woratanarat, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Medicine. He said the proposal would backfire and hinder disease control efforts.
"On the surface, the idea may sound alright because people who do bad things shouldn't get help," he wrote on Facebook.
"But it can worsen the outbreak because those people won't come out and get testing even when they fall ill.
"The virus might have spread far by the time authorities become aware of the extent of its transmission and this poses risks to medical personnel."
Dr Thira urged the government to reject the idea, saying the state must shoulder medical costs even for these groups of offenders to protect others from infection risks.
He said the government should impose "regional lockdowns" or stop unnecessary travel in provinces where Covid-19 infections are reported for two to four weeks and make the "stay home" campaign a national policy.
Dr Thira said the current outbreak is different from the previous one and more widespread. People should stay home and limit physical contact as much as possible.
Thepthai Senpong, a Democrat Party MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat, yesterday echoed Dr Thira's warning that denying free medical treatment to gamblers and illegal returnees would do more harm than good.
He said the government should consider whether the proposal goes against Section 47 of the charter and human rights obligations in reaching its decision.
Public health officials have faced difficulties in contact tracing during the new outbreak and several provinces have opted to announce "risk areas" rather than publishing Covid-19 patients' timeline.
Many patients withhold information out of privacy concerns, according to health officials.
This has prompted several provinces including Chon Buri and Samut Prakan to announce the places which Covid-19 patients visited, along with the dates and time of visits.
The provinces also advised people who went to those places at the time to keep an eye on their health.
Meanwhile, the National Health Security Office (NHSO) said it spent 468 million baht on Covid-19 screening and treatment from October to December last year, and the first quarter of this fiscal year.
NHSO secretary-general Sakchai Kanchanawattana said 155,856 people underwent Covid-19 testing and 4,887 people sought Covid-19 treatment.
Of the spending, a total of 319.39 million baht was spent on Covid-19 testing and the rest on treatment.