The third wave of the pandemic is well and truly underway in Thailand with case numbers rapidly approaching 1,000 new cases per day.
The Ministry of Public Health said that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better and a worst case scenario could see daily infection rates of several thousand per day by the end of April.
Unlike previous iterations of the pandemic, the third wave is remarkable in that the public health ministry say that they might not be able to control the situation as well as it did previously.
With Songkran around the corner, experts worry that mass temporary migration will cause the number of cases to bloom exponentially.
Given all these factors, important questions must be asked of the government and these questions must be answered because they have become literally a matter of life and death.
1. Why does Thailand lag so far behind other ASEAN countries in acquiring and distributing the vaccine?
Compared to similarly developed countries, Thailand’s number of inoculations is about half. (Read more here) There should be no reason for this and the government must do a lot of explaining why our vaccine acquisition program has been so inadequate given that disaster was always right around the corner.
If it was a gamble by the Prayut Chan-ocha administration and the emergency response center to wait on vaccine acquisition so that prices could lower, it has failed spectacularly. If it was inaptitude and poor decision making, then these decisions could have disastrous consequences.
Either way the government must answer this question immediately and with clarity because their inaction (or decision to not act) will cost more lives.
2. Why has the government dragged its feet in letting private hospitals acquire their own vaccines?
On Friday, the government finally agreed to allow private hospitals the ability to seek and acquire their own vaccines to supplement the government’s supplies.
It has been a long time coming. According to Dr Boon Vanasin of the Thonburi Hospital group, the private sector has been petitioning the government for months to allow private companies to bring and import their own vaccines. However government red tape, including failure by the public health ministry to sign off on acquisition requests made by private hospitals, means that any attempt by the private sector to help supply vaccines is vastly delayed.
If there had been agency by the government to act and help out the private sector in vaccine acquisition, then perhaps this third wave would not appear as dangerous as it now does.
3. Why have only three vaccines been approved for use?
This question ties in with the second one. As it currently stands, Thailand has only approved the use of AstraZeneca, Sinovacs and Johnson and Johnson for use in the country. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have still not been approved despite the millions of doses administered in the United States, Europe, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Is it to prevent the importation by private companies of the Pfizer/Moderna drugs because they would be much preferred by the populace compared to the less effective Sinovacs and AZ? Is there a reason that the government is betting all its money on locally produced AZ drugs and a Chinese-made remedy that has proven ineffective in the prevention of spread and partly owned by a local conglomeration?
Again, this is a question that the government must answer.
4. Why the hesitancy to shut down given statements made by the public health ministry?
The public health ministry has said that it will have trouble containing the latest outbreak which could see astronomical daily infection rates by the end of the month. Yet the government is once again dragging its feet, hoping to muddle through the pandemic like last year.
But imperative steps that can be taken by the government is not being taken because of poor leadership and cowardly decision-making. Rather than make the tough choices for the public good, the government is hoping that an event like Songkran does not spread the disease to every corner of the country.
Good luck with that.
5. Are ministers immune from scrutiny, judged to a different standard than the rest of us?
Apparently they can give just official timelines and fail to disclose travels that might be embarrassing and suffer no consequences.
But given that they can borrow million dollar watches from friends, be caught for smuggling cocaine in Australia, and take power through a military coup with impunity, we shouldn’t really be surprised.