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Thailand News Today | Thailand battles with easing restrictions

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As infections continue to rise sharply across the country, the government has raised the Covid alert to Level 4 nationwide.

The move comes as the number of severe cases and deaths also continues to rise, with most of the deaths reported in the elderly, the unvaccinated, and those with underlying health conditions. However, the CCSA has stated that lockdowns will not be implemented in order to curb the spread. Instead, disease prevention and containment measures are to be ramped up across the country.

According to the Public Health Ministry, there has been a noticeable spike in infections among family members and close acquaintances as a result of dining out together, playing sports, and attending weddings and funerals.

Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, says that if people drop their guard and fail to adhere to disease prevention measures, there could be a return to tougher restrictions.

Across the country, infections are increasing in all groups, but in particular, those of working age and children. The Department of Disease Control is paying close attention to the situation in 18 tourism provinces. Of those, Bangkok, Chon Buri, Phuket, Kanchanaburi, Krabi, Phang Nga, Nonthaburi,
and Pathumthani has reported fluctuating case numbers but the overall trend is climbing.

The CCSA meets tomorrow to assess the latest situation while reviewing measures aimed at boosting economic recovery. Spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangson says that from tomorrow, the focus of the government’s Covid task force will be on the number of severe cases and deaths. She adds that while there are no lockdown plans, the country is not yet ready to follow other countries in relaxing restrictions.

She was quoted saying “While the CCSA is unlikely to bring back lockdowns, Thailand still cannot afford to relax virus curbs in the same way as other countries have done. We have to come up with our own approach.”

————

Following the human trafficking of Rohingya people at the border of Thailand and Malaysia as reported yesterday, PM Prayut declared that Thailand “was serious about human trafficking”, and the situation was “improving”.

On February 18, Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome reported during a parliamentary meeting that the former policeman Paween Pongsiri was threatened by high-profile authorities after working on the human trafficking case at the border.

A Thairath News report in 2015 wrote that “Maj Gen Paween Pongsiri, the head of the team investigating the human trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants, has reportedly decided to move abroad with his family out of fear of the repercussions from the still powerful trafficking syndicates.”

The former top policeman had also been tasked with sorting out Phuket’s public transport monopolies and alleged ‘taxi and tuk tuk mafia’ but had run up against deep-seated corruption and a culture of fear on the tourist island.

Most notably, Paween was the investigating team leader working closely on the human trafficking case and was responsible for finding the makeshift camp in Songkhla where Rohingya victims were captured and imprisoned – the photos of which shocked Thais. He claimed that he was stopped from working because the case involved many influential people.

The MP also shared that Paween was pressured by different seniors until he left the country and sought shelter in Australia for his safety.

Yesterday, PM Prayut commented on the matter with Thai media saying that he had left Thailand on his own accord and “no one could threaten him as Thailand had laws”.

The Prime Minister continued, quote “If Paween is confident that he was clean and didn’t have any problems with me or others, he could come back.”

The PM also refused to concede that the human trafficking situation in Thailand had become worse. Instead, he insisted that the situation of crackdowns on human traffickers was “getting better and better”.

———

Some members of the public have reacted with anger after Phuket police arrested a number of foreign tourists who were riding electric scooters.

In the normally busy tourist area of Patong, the tourists were charged with using unregistered vehicles on the road. Officers confiscated the scooters, threatening legal action against those who rented them out.

However, photos of the bemused tourists being arrested quickly went viral, generating a backlash from netizens. Many wanted to know why the police hadn’t simply gone to arrest those running the scooter rental businesses, pointing out that the actions of the police could jeopardise the island’s already fragile tourism industry.

According to a report, Patong Police Station has confirmed that the use of electric scooters is banned, due to the risk to other road users and to the scooter riders themselves. In addition, while the tourists were arrested for using unregistered vehicles, the police have confirmed it’s not possible to register electric scooters under the existing laws of the Phuket Provincial Land Transportation Office.

———

Star Petroleum Refining, the petrochemical company behind 3 separate oil leaks about 20 kilometres off the Rayong coastline, has now been approved by Map Ta Phut Provincial police and Marine Department to seal leaks in their underwater pipeline.

The company says that works have begun today, starting with clearing the most recent oil leak of around 12,000 spare metres that occurred about 2 days ago.

The company promises that they will finish the repairs and clean up within 11 days.

Adding to local environmental woes from the oil leak, Rayong beaches are now reporting dumps of medical waste, either washed up or dumped intentionally on the beach, which authorities say they will investigate and track down the source.

Thai media have reported on the mess that includes discarded face masks, empty medical vials, and bottles, and syringes spread along PMY Beach, about 7 kilometres east along the Rayong coastline from the main city centre. Authorities are now investigating the origin of the dumped waste and warning tourists not to touch it with bare hands as it could bring diseases”.

Star Petroleum vows to seal the 2 leaking points in the underwater pipeline and “clean up” oil slicks in Rayong. Thai media report that the repair process will be divided into 3 steps, including spraying the leak sealant on the valve to prevent oil spills, clearing the crude oil still stuck in the pipe, and sealing the 2 leaks.

The company confirmed that every process would be under the close scrutiny of foreign specialists and officials from the oil pipeline manufacturer. State organisations, like the Royal Thai Navy and Marine Department, will also join the processes to evaluate the safety and control any risks.

According to the report, the company has prepared 20 boats with oil booms and other equipment, along with 24 divers to handle the emergency and take pictures underwater. Every process will be recorded and submitted to the authorities as evidence of the repairs.

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