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Buddhist monks criticize Thai government's pandemic response

Monks rally behind a popular preacher after he is rebuked by Buddhist officials for interfering in politics

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: May 05, 2021 04:27 AM GMT

Updated: May 05, 2021 04:52 AM GMT

Buddhist monks criticize Thai government's pandemic response

A medical staff member keeps watch while preparing to vaccinate members of the Klong Toey slum community at a school in Bangkok on May 4. (Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

A Buddhist monk and popular preacher has drawn the ire of senior Thai religious officials for criticizing the government’s failure to deliver the promised mass vaccination against Covid-19.

Thailand had managed to escape the worst ravages of the global pandemic largely unscathed with negligible local transmissions. Now, the arrival of deadly strains, such as the UK variant known as B117, and the government’s failure to deliver on their vaccination promise have resulted in a deadly third wave of infections.

The Sangha Supreme Council, the country’s governing body of Buddhist monastics, has publicly rebuked Phra Maha Sompong Talaputto for “interfering in politics” on grounds that ordained monks are supposed to remain apolitical.

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However, many Thai Buddhists have leapt to the 42-year-old monk’s defense on social media, insisting that his criticisms of the government’s response to a renewed outbreak of Covid-19 have been justified.

“Phra Maha Sompong Talaputto would seem to be exactly the sort of monk that Thai Buddhism desperately needs if it is to become actually Buddhist,” an observer wrote.

“With everything that is going wrong in this country right now, you would think the Prime Minister’s Office would have better things to be doing than chasing down and silencing their critics,” another person posted online.

“By the way, this story will lead to more ridicule and shame on the PM and this government than if they just ignored this monk,” another observer added.

As the Thai government dithers, the country’s coronavirus outbreak is threatening to spiral out of control

In recent weeks Thais have been experiencing a third wave of infections with tens of thousands of new cases.

Some of the hardest hit have been poor, inner-city communities in Bangkok’s shantytowns where the underprivileged are crammed so tightly together in ramshackle wooden shacks and cinderblock abodes that social distancing is impossible.   

The government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who seized power in a military coup seven years ago, has proved unable to deal with the latest outbreak beyond enacting haphazard lockdowns in Bangkok and elsewhere.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, a mercurial property developer with no previous medical experience, has failed to deliver the government’s plan to inoculate tens of millions of Thais against the coronavirus. The strategy is mired in controversy as despite all official promises less than 1 percent of Thais have received vaccine shots.

Prominent local virologists and epidemiologists have been urging Prayut’s administration to start a mass vaccination drive as soon as possible, yet such a project may not get underway for months.

As the Thai government dithers, the country’s coronavirus outbreak is threatening to spiral out of control.

Phra Maha Sompong is not the only Buddhist monk to voice concerns about the lack of adequate government planning to deal with the outbreak.

The monks have stressed that it will be the poor who are likely to bear the brunt of the outbreak because they have limited access to quality health care, while ongoing lockdowns, which have forced most businesses to be shuttered, have deprived many of the neediest locals of vital income.

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