In a speech this evening, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that Thailand must reopen in 120 days, which would be October 14, despite slow vaccine rollout and risk of increased Covid-19 outbreaks. The speech seemed to mark a shift from trying to eradicated Covid-19 in Thailand through controlling the spread and vaccinating the population to an acceptance of the virus’s long-term presence and balancing the risks with the need to move forward.
“We have to come to terms that it [Covid-19] will continue to be around in the world and in Thailand for some time. We cannot wait for a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with 2 shots to open the country or for when the world is free of the virus. We must be ready to live with some risk and just try to keep it at a manageable level, and let people go back to being able to earn a living.”
PM Prayut lauded the progress in vaccination procurement, manufacturing, and distributing to the population, highlighting the negotiations with 6 suppliers – Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer, and the contracts for 105.5 million vaccines scheduled to be received by the end of the year.
He announced a plan to start vaccinating 10 million people a month in July, with a goal of 50 million people with at least one shot by October, and further plans to continually stockpile vaccines next year. Interestingly, the prime minister only addressed vaccine shortages by saying that other countries have shown that manufacturers don’t always meet delivery commitments and Thailand will have to manage this eventuality.
After discussing vaccines, PM Prayut dropped the biggest news: the country’s struggle must be lessened by reopening the country fully within 120 days. He made a point to say that “inconvenient restrictions” and quarantine must be fully lifted for vaccinated international travellers, and Thai nationals should be able to travel domestically and return home from abroad anytime without quarantine.
PM Prayut said that tourist havens can open even faster than 120 days if they are fully prepared earlier, but also left room for backpedalling by stating that if a serious situation occurs or seems imminent, this reopening plan could be modified or cancelled. But barring that, he instructed all provinces and government officials to set their sights on reopening within 4 months, including ramping up vaccination efforts, despite appointment cancellations across the country due to unavailability of vaccines.
The prime minister pointed to the Phuket Sandbox model as the first step and said the approval will be fast-tracked to be decided by the Cabinet next week. He believes that there will be tourists coming as countries worldwide relax travel restrictions.
PM Prayut conceded that an increase in Covid-19 infections is expected to be inevitable when the borders reopen, regardless of precautions. But he believes the risk is worth the need for restarting the economy and letting people get back to work. He commented that protecting lives in Thailand is not just fighting the virus, but also dealing with the financial hardship created by the pandemic.
He said that overall Thailand has been one of the safest countries in the world regarding Covid-19 and by preventing overcrowding in hospitals, countless non-Covid related lives were saved by being able to receive medical care.
PM Prayut said that Covid-19 will remain part of life like any other disease humans cope with, and we must learn to live with it and move on, getting Thai life back to as close to normal as quickly as possible. He set the priority of giving everyone at least one vaccine immediately citing studies that even just one shot increases your body’s defences against Covid-19.
He then highlighted “the right decision” Thailand made in manufacturing vaccines domestically so that they can be produced continually for years to come if needed. He pointed to Singapore and Taiwan having problems with not always receiving the vaccines they ordered from abroad, though he failed to mention that Taiwan’s holdup was due to Thailand’s AstraZeneca vaccines being delayed.
PM Prayut closed the speech with words of appreciation and encouragement to public health workers, local health volunteers, and others who have worked tirelessly to cope with Covid-19. He acknowledged the challenges in an evolving situation and asked for understanding for the inevitable mistakes or inconveniences along the way.
“Ensuring the rollout of such a massive, nationwide programme of vaccinations within only a few months is a truly historic mission that is unprecedented.”
For more information on how to get into Thailand during the pandemic, CLICK HERE.
SOURCE: FCC Thailand transcription
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