Updated: June 17, 2021 05:22 AM GMT
Medical personnel prepare to vaccinate members of the Klong Toey community, one of the areas with the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the capital, at a school in Bangkok on May 4. (Photo: AFP)
Thailand’s prime minister has pledged to fully reopen his Covid-19-stricken country within 120 days, but many locals remain skeptical of the promised timeline.
In a televised address delivered on June 16, Prayut Chan-o-cha said all businesses would be allowed to reopen within four months and international travel could also resume in a country heavily dependent on tourist dollars for its currently moribund economy.
“I am setting a goal for us to be able to declare Thailand fully open within 120 days from today, and for tourism centers that are ready to do so even faster,” Prayut said before adding that he recognized that reopening the country could carry certain risks.
“When we take into consideration the economic needs of people, the time has now come for us to take that calculated risk [of reopening],” he stressed.
His announcement came just as his government’s rollout of mass vaccination hit an embarrassing hurdle after only a week when it transpired that Thailand’s stockpile of doses has already run out.
The government is now scrambling to procure more doses in bulk as millions of Thais already registered for jabs are being kept waiting after repeated delays.
Prayut and his people have all been vaccinated already, so this [scheme] will have no personal risks for them
To date, fewer than 2 million people in a country of 69 million have been fully inoculated, while another 3 million have received a single shot rather than the two shots deemed necessary for full protection against the potentially deadly coronavirus.
At least 50 million people will need to be fully vaccinated in Thailand so that herd immunity can be achieved and the virus can be held at bay, according to experts.
That would mean inoculating well over 10 million people a month in the coming four months, yet Prayut has played down that necessity.
“We cannot wait for a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with two shots, or for when the world is free of the virus, to reopen the country,” Prayut said.
However, his insistence has not gone down well with many locals who suspect a cynical ploy behind the plan.
“Prayut and his people have all been vaccinated already, so this [scheme] will have no personal risks for them,” a Bangkok-based chemist told UCA News on condition of anonymity.
“Rich people will also have the chance to inoculate themselves [in coming months], so it will only be the poor who will suffer if they fail to receive vaccines and there is a major outbreak after the country has been reopened,” she added.
Covid-19 continues to spread seemingly unchecked around Thailand, which has recorded nearly 200,000 cases and some 1,500 deaths, most of them in the past few months.
Prior to the pandemic, Thailand received some 40 million visitors a year, but experts say a return to anything near those numbers will likely take years
Overcrowded places such as inner-city slums, prisons and factories have been particularly subject to uncontrolled outbreaks.
At the same time, the economy has been struggling, with low-income earners especially badly affected without foreign tourists and many businesses shuttered as a result of prolonged lockdowns.
Although reopening the country could potentially revive Thailand’s ailing economy, a lot would depend on how many tourists would visit the country.
Prior to the pandemic, Thailand received some 40 million visitors a year, but experts say a return to anything near those numbers will likely take years.
Some commentators have also warned that Prayut, a mercurial former army chief who has been notorious for walking back statements and changing his mind, could well flip-flop again before his promised 120 days are up.