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Not much of an apology – Thai Health Minister’s non-apology

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Not much of an apology – Thai Health Minister’s non-apology | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thai Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul handing out paper face masks - France24
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OPINION by Tim Newton

Yesterday morning the Thai Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, also the head of the Bhumjaithai Party, lost his cool and struck out at ‘Europeans’ and ‘damn farangs’ (caucasians) saying they “should be kicked out” of Thailand for not wearing the cheap, flimsy paper face masks being handed out at the busy Siam BTS station as a government PR stunt.

Worthy as his attempts were, to press BTS travellers to adopt a precautionary attitude about the current coronavirus outbreak, mostly confined to China (all but 300 of the cases are within mainland China), his appearance did a lot more harm than good.

There was little right about the media presser from the start.

Flanked by his minions, all adorned with the flimsy pale blue face masks (which usually cost around 20 baht when the pharmacies aren’t price-gouging the situation), he spoke about Thailand’s success in limiting the outbreak within the Kingdom.

Just the day before he made another of his changes of mind saying that Thailand won’t be closing its borders to Chinese travellers.

“Thailand’s public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul now says imposing a travel ban on Chinese citizens won’t help the government’s fight against coronavirus 2019nCov epidemic.”

A week ago he was insisting that Thailand would have to stop flights out of China, a proposal that was challenged by the Sports and Tourism Minister and eventually voted at last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting as “excessive”.

Whether that decision was right or wrong, we’ll leave that to the scientists and World Health Organisation to explain in coming months.

As Anutin started speaking to the awaiting media pack, ironically without his face mask in place, he noted that some ‘farang’ weren’t taking the face-masks being offered.

“They don’t care about the big picture. They don’t have any consideration to the situation.”

“… non-compliant behaviours of foreigners should be reported to embassies”.

“All damn farangs, those tourists… that’s something the embassies should be notified about and the public as well that are not wearing masks.”

“We’re handing them out and they still refuse. They need to be kicked out of Thailand!”

“We’re giving the masks to them and they still refuse.”

“The Chinese, the Asians… they are all taking the masks, but those Europeans… that’s unbelievable.”

THOSE Europeans, the ‘farangs’ he was deriding, have provided the back-bone of Thailand’s growing tourism industry for decades until the Chinese started visiting Thailand in large numbers since around 2014. The numbers of Europeans have remained steady but, as a proportion, their percentage has been slowly dropping. But they’re still a vital component to the Thai tourism mix.

But his later apology, mid afternoon on the same day, wasn’t much of an apology. He apologised for his racially-charged remarks. He blamed his outburst… “on ill manners displayed by some foreigners”.

So rather than unreservedly apologising for his comments he just doubled-down and blamed the foreigners again.

“I’m sorry for losing my temper to foreigners today. I couldn’t tell where the foreigners came from or how much risk they pose.”

“We expected respect and cooperation in mitigating the outbreak from them, not slapping our hands away or looking at us in a demeaning way.

But there was a venom behind his original outburst too, beyond the actual words themselves, that was particularly worrisome. Beyond the venom was a tinge of racism that should concern anyone who is ‘caucasian’ and living in, or visiting, Thailand. The rant, from a minister, officially appointed by the Head of State, was inappropriate, ill-considered and reflected poorly on the Prayut Government.

If you’ve lived in Thailand over the term of the Prayut military, and recently quasi-democratic, government, you’d know that that there’s been a push (or is that ‘putsch’) to make it more difficult for foreigners to reside and work in the Land of Smiles. Of course the Thai government are well entitled to make foreigners jump through as many hoops as they want – it’s their country.

There has been a few ill-tempered comments coming from Immigration officials, and even the Deputy PM Prawit Wongsawon, in the past, blaming foreigners for Thailand’s problems. But this was probably the most direct reflection of those inner racial tensions coming to the surface in front of 50 cameras recording his every word.

And his words, caught in sharp focus on numerous cameras, and republished in hundreds of articles, are making the round in world media. It’s not a good look.

Thailand’s health minister lashed out at “Western” tourists on Friday for not wearing face masks and suggested they be expelled from the country for putting others at risk during the coronavirus outbreak – France24

Some tourists refused to accept the surgical masks, prompting his comments. He later apologised on his Facebook page for “losing it” – Bloomberg

Even the word ‘farang’ is one that makes a lot of ‘white’ foreigners bristle. When used by the vast majority of Thais, it’s just a word that’s been used for centuries to describe the ‘round-eyed’ white foreigners. Similar terms have mostly disappeared from polite discourse in the west. The indigenous Australians, are no longer referred to as ‘black fellas’ and the word ‘negro’ is considered utterly verboten in the US. Similar terminology has vanished in civilised conversation around the world because it’s now recognised as racially-charged and a completely unscientific way of defining the disparate tribes of humans. Anthropologically, we are all one race – the human race.

But there’s still plenty of residual racism around the world, not the least in Asia where historical hatreds will take generations to pass. Maybe us ‘farang’ were too hopeful that the easy-going Thais, with their willing smile and accommodating culture were too good to be true. Maybe we ARE all just walking ‘white’ ATM cards afterall, ready to be siphoned as we plough through the myriad ‘misunderstandings’ and paperwork obstacle courses at the Immigration offices. We’re just deep pockets of cash to visit Thailand as tourists, then leave, please.

Despite Anutin’s outburst, it should be discussed why he was there in the first place. It was a well-timed PR opportunity at Bangkok’s busiest BTS (Skytrain) station, just after the morning peak. The Bangkok press were invited to witness his grand gesture of handing out the ubiquitious pale blue paper face masks to passengers.

If Thai people, or anyone else in the world, hasn’t already realised that wearing a cheap, poorly-fitting piece of paper will do approximately NOTHING to protect you from Coronavirus, then you haven’t been doing your homework. The face masks, properly fitted, are a useful tool for doctors and clinicians in close contact with infected patients. They are also useful in helping prevent coughing and sneezing patients from spreading their germs.

But the virus in not ‘airborne’ and isn’t floating around waiting for you to walk into it (which appears to be the way many think it is transmitted, judging by their behaviour).

Even the World Health Organisation has published papers and websites about the unsuitability for wearing of paper face masks as a prevention for the current coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, it’s much more about washing your hands and avoiding touching your face when around infected patients. Anutin would have been better handing out washing basins and hand sanitisers if he wanted to be helpful.

And this guy is the Health Minister…. you know, the Minister of Health!! He should 1) know better 2) have been given better advice and 3) saved the government money and stayed back in his office reading the WHO published material.

Dear Minister, click below…

 

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1 Comment

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  1. Avatar

    Billy Johnson

    Monday, March 23, 2020 at 10:28 pm

    When I depart Thailand this week ( assuming that my flight will not be canceled) I am not sure that I will ever return after the covid situation has passed. I am very offended by the health minister’s racist comments. I don’t want to visit a country where I am not welcome. I take showers everyday. I maintain good health and never have I been sick. I’m not sure if I am considered a European fariang since I am from the United States but I guess I might be since I’m one of those dirty white Caucasians.

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Hong Kong partially locks down, forcing thousands to undergo Covid screening

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Hong Kong partially locks down, forcing thousands to undergo Covid screening | The Thaiger

Hong Kong’s government is forcing a partial lockdown until 10,000 residents of an area in the Kowloon peninsula, complete a Covid-19 test. The 2 day lockdown in the city’s poorest neighbourhood of Jordan, comes after a new strain of the coronavirus was identified, making it the 1st lockdown that the city has seen.

The area, which features many deteriorating buildings and 150 stacked housing blocks, has confirmed 162 confirmed cases of Covid-19 this month, with the ratio of virus detected in sewage samples from buildings there was higher than that of other areas.

Over the last 2 months the city has been hit by a 4th wave of infections with authorities struggling to bring the daily numbers down. Such clusters have hit the low-income neighbourhoods the most, which are notorious for cramped conditions in districts such as Yau Tsim Mong.

In recent days, health officials began mandatory testing in some 70 buildings in the area but the government has now decided to test everyone much to the confusion of local residents. As rumours of a lockdown were leaked to the local media, the government didn’t officially announce the measure until this morning. The area is also home to many ethnic minorities, mainly South Asian Hong Kongers, a community that often faces discrimination and poverty.

Earlier in the week a senior health official was criticised when he suggested ethnic minority residents might be spreading the virus more readily because “they like to share food, smoke, drink alcohol and chat together.”

The health official’s comments also came as a video was released of predominantly white migrants dancing at a packed brunch on the more affluent Hong Kong Island. But those who agreed with the health official pointed to cramped conditions, not race or culture, as being the cause of the virus spreading more easily.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Phuket wants Bangkok arrivals to skip quarantine to help tourism revenue

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Phuket wants Bangkok arrivals to skip quarantine to help tourism revenue | The Thaiger

Phuket’s tourism representatives are calling for an end to the mandatory quarantine levied at tourists arriving to the province from Bangkok. The tourism delegation have also told Phuket’s provincial government to be prepared to start receiving international tourists starting in October.

According to The Phuket News, such a plan would include a requirement for all international travellers to Thailand to have the Covid-19 vaccine. By that time, it is expected that Phuket will have 70% of its population vaccinated, with the timeline possibly being sped up by the province planning to buy the vaccines with its own funds. Such a move would bypass the national government’s timeline with the hopes of innoculating registered residents quicker. Governor Narong says such quarantine measures in place currently are preventing the province from profitting off domestic tourism.

“Phuket has been hit hard by the 2nd epidemic. Thai tourists do not come because they do not want to quarantine and follow the difficult steps to enter the province, not to mention there are no foreign tourists at this time.”

In a meeting, the PTA President Bhummikitti, said the Covid-19 vaccine was “the last ticket and the last hope” for Phuket tourism, “because Phuket tourism has no way out at this time.”

“Thai people are unable to travel due to the second outbreak, and foreign tourists are not to be mentioned at all. Vaccines are the hope of the Phuket tourism sector.”

“The private sector wants to get clarity from the government whether we can follow this plan or not, because if it is left like this – open, close, lockdown and so on, as in the past – local businesses are all dead.”

Bhummikitti pointed out that the government had promised to work with local industry on all matters related to Covid-19 and keeping the local economy alive. He said that the move would “allow tourism and the Phuket economy to be able to walk once more from having fewer Thai tourists.”

Governor Narong said tracking systems will be in place when tourists do come back to the province.

“In order to ensure tourists that Phuket citizens as well as incoming tourists are safe from the Covid-19 virus, there will be a tracking system, and a fund established to be used as a remedy [sic] to help those affected if there is an infection from incoming tourists.”

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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Eastern provinces growing impatient with safety measures as Covid cases decrease

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Eastern provinces growing impatient with safety measures as Covid cases decrease | The Thaiger

Thailand’s eastern provinces are growing impatient as local businesses and residents await a relaxation in Covid-19 safety measures after seeing a drop in cases. Chonburi, Chanthaburi, Trat and Rayong are under a “highly controlled” status set by the CCSA (Samut Sakhon, south west of Bangkok, also falls into the same category at this time). These provinces, along with Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakarn, are under the strictest control measures in the country.

The cause of such tough measures levied upon the provinces was due to a spike in Covid cases after illegal gambling operations in Rayong and Chonburi were found to feature participants with the Covid-19 virus. But now, those areas are reporting very few cases of the virus leaving residents frustrated as they are unable to make a living or travel.

There has been only 1 case in the past 2 days in all 4 of the Eastern provinces. That case was in Rayong, with all other cases being in the low single digits. On top of the low cases, any new cases have been promptly dealt with by requiring contact-tracing, tracking and quarantine. But any hopes of the measures relaxing has been pushed back to the end of the month, with many questioning such a delay.

Bangkok, which has seen more cases reported than all 4 eastern provinces combined, is now easing restrictions by allowing 13 types of businessesto reopen. The move has baffled the eastern provinces as such businesses are still ordered to shutter. The government has responded, somewhat, by offering a 3,500 baht handout for 2 months, but registration for the handout doesn’t start until the end of this month. When the money actually hits residents’ pockets is also unknown as it could take weeks.

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