Prime Minister and Defense Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha on 10 April 2020 issued a statement to inform the people of the Government’s operations to handle the COVID-19 situation and other related issues. The following statement was televised on the Television Pool of Thailand.
Dear Thai people,
As Prime Minister and Director of the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), I wish to inform you of the following developments.
Medical and Public Health Issues
Our measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have included social distancing, encouraging work from home, and the vigorous efforts by over one million village-level public health volunteers throughout the country who have provided medical assistance directly to many households and also monitored quarantined persons, including those under observation, who are scattered in many parts of the country. They represent a solid foundation and a strong point of Thailand’s public health system, and I would like to convey my appreciation for their committed efforts.
To enhance our efforts to care for infected patients, the Government has acquired an additional 200,000 N95 masks for our medical personnel. These masks are also reusable for up to four times following UV-C treatment. We have now a quota of 1.5 million masks per day for doctors and nurses. Cloth masks for the general public, or those who are not ill, have been produced by each community for distribution, and total over 50 million so far, which is an adequate amount. The CCSA has also been collecting information and monitoring the details concerning the production and distribution (by Thailand Post) of the types of masks mentioned above and other medical supplies through the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Interior, which are available to the public for transparency.
We have already received five shipments of the Favipiravir drug from the People’s Republic of China and Japan, totaling 187,000 pills, with an additional 200,000 in the process of being acquired. We have also prepared additional hospital beds and the necessary facilities to be able to receive patients in 98 locations in and around Bangkok and its surrounding locations. We have also prepared 80 more ICU beds and more state quarantine facilities in Bangkok and in other regions to be able to handle approximately 20,000 people. Importantly, the protection of our medical personnel from being infected is a top priority for me.
Protecting and assisting the public, including national security issues
The restrictions on cross-province travel and the current nation-wide curfew have been enforced by 20,000 officials with over 1,000 checkpoints. So far, we have received better cooperation from the public, though there have been over 6,500 arrests of those who have broken the curfew from 3-10 April. This is still not good enough, as it is too high a number for effective curtailing of the spread of the virus. As a result, the majority of the people have called for stronger measures and laws, or increased curfew hours. To those without a social conscience and are behaving irresponsibly – you are harming your families and the Thai people by doing this, especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet. I caution you to stop this behavior and change your ways. For the moment, however, the CCSA will not increase the national curfew time.
Control of Consumer Items
There have been a lot of grievances on overly-priced items, hoarding, and the refusal to sell some essential items. In the past four months, we have arrested and prosecuted 20 cases of price-hiking, 36 cases of fraudulent sales, and 75 cases of price manipulation. Since the announcement of 4 February 2020 listing masks and alcohol-based sanitary hand gel as controlled items, there have also been 334 arrests of violators, with additional confiscations of over 2.7 million masks, 330,000 liters of alcohol, 60,000 COVID-19 test kits, and 4,000 thermometers, all totaling a value of over 177 million baht.
Our fundamentals are to survive the current crisis and come out stronger and more resilient. To this end, the Government has approved several assistance packages (Phases 1 & 2 already implemented), which are considered “urgent” for the people. The next phase of assistance, or Phase 3, will include a budget of 1.9 trillion baht, which is about 9-10 percent of our GDP. This will involve the following:
1. There will be an executive decree approving the Ministry of Finance to borrow one trillion baht to address the issue of monetary flow, through three operational plans: 1) a Public Health operational plan to acquire medical equipment and medicines and to fund research, 2) a Compensation operational plan for affected farmers and business owners, which will use about 600 billion baht, and 3) an Economic and Social Revival operational plan to create jobs, stimulate spending, and promote investment, so that we can return to normalcy, improve the quality of life for citizens, and maintain progress in our development, which will use about 400 billion baht.
2. An executive decree will be issued approving financial assistance for SMEs with a budget of 500 billion baht, with the Bank of Thailand working with commercial banks and other financial institutions to provide low-interest credit for business owners to assist in liquidity and loan payments. There will also be debt relief for up to six months for SMEs, including adjustments to debt structures to alleviate repayment plans. It is estimated that 1.7 million business owners will be eligible for this scheme, which will help support our economy as it progresses toward revival.
3. An executive decree will be issued approving the Bank of Thailand to support liquidity in our bond markets, with a limit of up to 400 billion baht, particularly to prevent a lack of liquidity in the business sector.
4. There will be a drafting of a royal act to transfer parts of the fiscal budget from government agencies, to reduce at least 10 percent of their uncommitted budget allocations to support assistance packages for people affected by COVID-19, drought relief efforts, and other natural disaster mitigation efforts. The Cabinet will expedite proposing this draft royal act for royal approval by June 2020.
5. The Cabinet has approved, in principle, the increase of medical and nursing staff and Ministry of Public Health officials, including hospitals under institutions of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation. This includes over 45,000 new positions, comprising around 38,000 civil servants and around 7,000 positions for new medical students in 2020. The Committee on Human Resource Management for Government Agencies has been tasked to carefully consider this matter within two weeks. In addition, given the importance of Thai traditional medicine, relevant personnel will also benefit from this proposal through restructuring within the Ministry of Public Health.
6. There will also be an increase of free electricity units, from 50 to 90 units per month for households that have meters of no more than 5 amps. This is expected to benefit over 6.4 million people across the country.
The previous Cabinet meeting also considered the matter of unemployment benefits, and has approved in principle for the Ministry of Labor to draft laws to determine the conditions for receiving unemployment benefits due to an economic crisis or force majeure, so that those with social security can claim unemployment benefits that will cover their redundancy status due to the COVID-19 situation, as well as from other situations such as a city lockdown, the declaration of an emergency situation, a curfew, or orders to suspend business operations that are not officially directed by the Government. Additionally, employees are entitled to assistance from the Employee Welfare Fund in accordance with the law.
Spending on the borrowed funds and other budgets used for the COVID-19 situation in the areas of public health, assistance programs, and other support remedies will be overseen (directed and followed up) by a committee, so that the Prime Minister, serving as the Director of CCSA, can propose such programs to the Cabinet for approval. Any news on the use of this budget, such as in social media, which is not based on Cabinet approval, should be considered as not true and, therefore, not credible.
So far, we have focused on quarantining persons entering the country for 14 days. We have now started to delay the return of Thai citizens from abroad until 18 April 2020, given that most of the new cases of infections are imported from returning persons. In the meantime, the Government is considering other assistance measures for those who remain abroad, particularly in our neighboring countries, in the form of financial assistance for example.
Communications in times of crisis
Currently, cases of fake news or distorted news are continuing. Just yesterday there were a total of 26 cases, with charges brought against 10 cases involving 13 suspects, and arrest warrants out for three cases.
Dear Thai people,
Since 4 January this year until now, we have been in this fight against COVID-19 together. Through our preparations and close monitoring of the situation by our public health system, and cooperation from all sectors, we have managed to control this outbreak to a certain degree, with a relatively low death rate compared to other countries. We have been able to handle the various issues related to this situation with effectiveness, which has led to many countries mentioning Thailand as an example for dealing with COVID-19. Please rest assured in the Government’s measures to deal with this, but at the same time, please practice self-discipline. We will leave no one behind, and my responsibility is to look after every Thai citizen. Let us continue this fight together, we are Team Thailand, and as we stay united, there is no fight we cannot win.
To our public health personnel (doctors, traditional Thai medicine specialists, nurses, medical staff in hospitals and other medical institutions, and over a million public health volunteers across the country) in the front line, and to the other officials (civil servants, police, soldiers, and volunteers) who are caring for and serving the people at this time of crisis, which involves many risks to your own health – you are our hope and you are our heroes. You are in my heart and in the hearts of 70 million Thai people. I thank you for your sacrifice.
This coming week is the Songkran Festival. Though the Government has already announced that the public holidays for Songkran have been postponed to a later timeframe, there are still many activities that risk spreading the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, the Government asks that we all adhere to the following guidelines: 1) refrain from holding any Songkran event; 2) refrain from returning to your hometown; 3) refrain from the water blessing ritual with seniors or elder persons; 4) refrain from holding or attending any public gatherings; and 5) avoid traveling to risk areas. However, for us to be able carry on with our traditions during this time, we can 1) perform the water blessing ritual on the Buddha statue at home; 2) express piety to our elders and family members though keeping a social distance of 1-2 meters while wearing a mask; and 3) express piety to respected elders who are distant through our phones or on the internet.
On behalf of the Royal Thai Government, I would like to wish you all happiness and good health for the upcoming Thai New Year, as well as the inspiration to overcome this crisis together. For this Songkran, I ask that we all “Stay Home, Stop the Virus, For the Family.” We will surmount this crisis together and Thailand will beat this.