Thailand is considering an extension of its state of emergency through Sept 30 to prevent a second wave of coronavirus cases and guard its streak of almost three months without a local infection amid mounting anti-government protests.
The one-month extension, when approved by the Cabinet, would be the fifth since the initial order in March. The emergency allows the government to enforce mandatory quarantines and streamline disease-control plans without multiple approvals from various agencies, according to General Natthapol Nakpanich, deputy army chief and deputy leader of the national Covid-19 task force.
Thailand has not detected any new cases from community transmission for the past 86 days, one of the world’s longest streaks. But officials are wary after the virus recently re-emerged in places including Vietnam and New Zealand. Also, a student-led protest movement sweeping Thailand could make it difficult to control spreading if an outbreak occurs.
“The worry is that many people will be too complacent after seeing no new cases in the country for many days,” Gen Natthapol said, adding that the extension of emergency rules will help the authorities control risks, but will not affect people’s daily lives or their right to protest.
A crowd of more than 10,000 people held a demonstration in Bangkok on Sunday, one of the largest protests in recent years, to demand an end to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s military-led administration and call for the monarchy’s powers to be reined in.
While most protesters wear masks, they do not follow physical distancing practices.
Thailand so far has detected 3,382 infections, with new cases in recent weeks found in people already in state quarantine after returning from abroad. But health officials said they are preparing for a possible second wave and drafting action plans.
“The detection of new local cases will not be a shock or a surprise. It could happen,” said Dr Tanarak Plipat, deputy head of the disease control department at the Health Ministry.
“The focus will be on avoiding a large outbreak in the country.”
Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow said on Wednesday (Aug 19) Thailand will introduce more stimulus measures to support tourism, jobs and domestic consumption hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The government plans to increase the benefits contained in an earlier package to boost domestic tourism, while details of other measures will be decided later, Mr Supattanapong told a briefing.
The tourism measures are likely to be the first to need Cabinet approval, he said, after a meeting of the government’s centre for economic situation administration, chaired by PM Prayut.
South-east Asia’s second-largest economy suffered its biggest contraction since the 1998 Asian financial crisis in the second quarter as the pandemic hit tourism and domestic activity.