Thais treated 'with contempt' over Egyptian visitors
The opposition has lambasted the government after foreign nationals were allowed to enter Thailand without enforced quarantine and claims there might have been other, unreported cases of arrivals slipping through the net.
Opposition members from the Seri Ruam Thai and Move Forward parties took to the floor in the House of Representatives after filing a motion demanding the government explain the movements of an Egyptian delegation, including a soldier confirmed to be infected with Covid-19, which was found to have visited shopping malls in Rayong.
The soldier has been shown on CCTV footage to have visited the Passione Shopping Destination mall in the Muang district of Rayong with his military colleagues, four of whom then also took taxis and shopped in the nearby CentralPlaza department store.
A Seri Ruam Thai list MP, Rewat Wisarutvech, targeted a motion at Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, saying the incident had made people anxious and pointed out that while the government had implored people not to drop their guard and stick to Covid-19 preventive measures, the Egyptian military visitors had eluded the attention of authorities.
"It demonstrates a recklessness on the government's part. It obviously appeased some VIPs but it treated Thai people with contempt," the MP said.
Gen Prayut and the CCSA have apologised for the oversight and the PM on Tuesday ordered the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to review the easing of restrictions and plug loopholes in disease control measures. Besides diplomats and their families, all flights from foreign countries, including military aircraft, will have to follow those measures from now on, said the premier, who publicly criticised the Egyptian visitors for being irresponsible.
Dr Rewat said, however, that an apology fell short of rectifying the damage done. "Is the prime minister willing to resign over the incident?" he said.
Responding on the prime minister's behalf, Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha said the 27 Egyptian military visitors were among the 11 groups of foreign nationals exempt from confined quarantine.
However, when such privileged visitors arrive at their lodgings, they are supposed to remain there, said Mr Sathit.
In the Egyptian visitors' case, although they violated the self-enforced quarantine requirement, they wore face masks the entire time they spent at the mall and did not dine in the premises or come into contact with other shoppers there.
Nine people who interacted with the soldiers have been tested, including the drivers who took them from the airport to the hotel in central Rayong, plus hotel staff and maids.
The two drivers were found to be uninfected and the others' test results were pending, the deputy minister said.
"What happened is a lesson learned," he said, adding the D Varee Diva Central Hotel where the Egyptian soldiers had stayed was not a quarantine facility.
Kwanlert Panichmart, a Move Forward MP for Chon Buri, said he did not believe the Rayong oversight was a one-off incident and there might have been other "quarantine dodgers' among the 11 excepted groups of foreign nationals.
He demanded the government pay compensation for the damage caused to Rayong people and businesses by the incident.
Hotel bookings are reported to have plummeted 90% since news of the Egyptian delegation broke.