Based on the National Security Council (NSC)’s proposal, the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) decided on Friday to extend the nationwide State of Emergency (SOE) until the end of June.
The cabinet will need to approve the extension next Tuesday before it can come into effect.
The SOE was introduced on March 26 and was intended to last until April 30. It was, however, extended by the CCSA to May 31 and again to June 30.
The curfew will also remain intact.
According to the constitution, the SOE can legally last up to three months.
“The director of CCSA [Prayut Chan-ocha] stressed that the main reasoning behind the extension of the SOE is for public health security,” said CCSA spokesperson Dr Thaweesin Visanuyothin.
Following the announcement by the CCSA, Move Forward party speaker Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat expressed his party’s disagreement on his Twitter page.
“The NSC is not a group of people that can speak for the rest of the country,” he wrote.
“The extension of the SOE will continue to impact people’s daily income. The entire country knows that the Communicable Diseases Act could replace the SOE, why not choose this option?” Nattacha added while ending the post with #ยกเลิกพรกฉุกเฉินเดี๋ยวนี้ (#endSOEnow).
Progressive Movement co-leader Pannika Wanich told Thai Enquirer that everyone knows going into lockdown is an effective way of containing an outbreak; however, it always comes with “heavy economic costs.”
“In Thailand, people have been questioning for months already whether the economic cost is worth it in containing the virus, especially when daily detected cases are in the single digits or at zero,” she said.
Pannika said the move to extend the SOE has brought up the question, whether this is “a coup with a medical certificate.”
“Thailand has a good record in containing the virus, and with measures easing the lockdown, the question becomes: is it even necessary to extend the SOE?” the former spokeswoman of the dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP) questioned.
Thaweesin said the decision was based on three considerations:
First, the emergency decree is still needed to maintain “unity, rapidness, continuity, effectiveness, and the common standard practices of government officials.”
He explained that the sole use of the Communicable Diseases Act of 2015 was not enough to counter the outbreak of the coronavirus within the country. This is why more than 40 extra laws were enacted under the power of the emergency decree to stop the spread of the virus.
“The emergency decree is not only about local infection scenarios but it is also related to travel restrictions, immigration and various others which require these extra laws,” he said.
Second, the extension of the SOE is needed for the preparation for phase three and four of the easing period.
Thaweesin said the risk level to the public health in phase three and four will be higher than phase one and two because it would involve the reopening of businesses and activities that are at more risk of infections.
“How can we lower the control measures when the risk level is about to become higher?” he asked.
Third, the global outbreak situation is ongoing and many other countries are still coping with a high infection rate. This means that the SOE is still needed to maintain the travel restriction rules.
“Infectious diseases do not have borders,” he said.
Pheu Thai response
Pheu Thai Party spokesman Anusorn Iamsa-ard said on his Facebook page that the extension of the SOE represents another attempt to “freeze” the country’s development, as it has been six years since the latest coup in 2014.
“The government is facing a crisis of confidence from all sides because of its efficiency in every dimension,” he said.
The small number of confirmed cases per day in the past week cannot be used to justify the “incarceration” of 67 million people, he added.
He also pointed out that the government’s decision to allow malls to reopen but continued to shut down schools is one example of this government’s “inefficiency.”
The government’s effort in providing compensation for people that have been impacted by the lockdown orders was a “failure” as it was “ineffective” and “slow-moving,” Anusorn said.
“Whatever measures that came out always created doubt… there is fear that the government will violate their privacy and freedom while stealing their information for political gains,” he added without clarification.
Some critics have earlier pointed to concerns over the launch of the state-run coronavirus tracing applications and the launch of Twitter’s official Thailand account.
Anusorn said the extension of the SOE will “only benefit the government but the damages will be on the citizens.” He said the main reason why the outbreak has been contained is because of everyone’s effort, not because of the emergency decree.
He justified his reasoning with the survey that showed Thailand was leading ASEAN in terms of mask-wearing and hand sanitation.
The government knows that if they compare the outbreak situation in Thailand with other ASEAN countries, the people will not be scared, Anusorn added. This is why the CCSA is always comparing the outbreak situation in Thailand with countries that still have a high infection rate “just to scare people that they should not let their guards down.”
“The government is using this as an excuse to keep on extending the SOE as long as possible,” he said. “What the government should do is to put an end to the SOE as soon as possible so that everything can return to normal while lessening the economic impact on the people.”
Student activist response
Bunkueanun Paothong, the co-chair of the Coalition of Salaya Student, said, “The extension of the SOE is nothing more than the government’s attempt to hold on to power. In a normal situation, the government does not have full authority because they no longer have Article 44.”
“But with the SOE, it gives them the authority to nullify the rights of the press and people to come out,” he added. “I see that this is not about containing the virus because the situation is getting better. They are still using the SOE because it puts them in a position of power.”