Four decisions Thailand got wrong in its Covid-19 fight so far

Thailand saw 40 more Covid-19 related deaths on Wednesday, a stark reminder of the need for vigilance and good policies in the fight against the pandemic.

With over 170,000 cases and over 1,400 deaths since the beginning of April, we are constantly reminded of the policy failures that have led to this point.

Here are four decisions the government wishes it could have back:

Accepting India’s offer of vaccines

In December 2020, the Indian government offered to sell Thailand at least 1 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines at cost. The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs met with representatives from the Indian government twice, once in December and once again in January, according to Tanee Sangrat, the Director-General of the Department of Information, to discuss buying vaccines. According to Tanee, the MFA forwarded the proposal to relevant government agencies who never got back to the Indian side.

The government has since tried to deny this, claiming that the vaccine on offer was a different kind than AZ. Considering that this makes zero sense at all, given that Indian-made AZ doses were sent to Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, it just seems like the government was trying to save face.

Regardless, the million doses of AZ in December would have gone a long way to help the country in its fight to stop the second wave and potentially help mitigate the start of the third wave altogether.

Approving Pfizer and Moderna in November

It had recently emerged that both Pfizer and Moderna asked the FDA to review their vaccines as early as late 2020. According to local media reports, Pfizer also offered to sell their jabs to the Ministry of Public Health in November of last year.

For some reason, the Thai government chose to rely on locally produced AstraZeneca and imported Sinovac Vaccine. It has been a disastrous decision with local AZ doses delayed and Sinovac Vaccines showing less than stellar real world results.

The decision to basically rely on an unproven company in Siam Bioscience to produce vaccines has been criticized from all corners including by Siam Bioscience spokeswoman Nualphan Lamsam who said that relying on “one horse” by the government was a bad decision.

Allowing private hospitals to import vaccines

Thai private hospitals have been asking since October of last year to be able to source and secure their vaccines. As all vaccine orders must be countersigned by a government organization, the private hospital groups needed the Ministry of Public Health to countersign purchase orders.

The Ministry of Public Health under Anutin Charnvirakul has refused at every step of the way, maintaining that the government had done enough to secure vaccines and that there would be “plenty” for all Thais.

Abject failure is the best way to describe what has transpired since.

Imagine how different things would have been if private hospitals were allowed to help and boost Thailand’s vaccine supplies. This decision is nothing short of criminal and a long and lengthy investigation must be conducted after the end of the pandemic.

Shutting down the country during Songkran

The third wave of Covid-19, helped spread by government ministers and Thai high society, was well underway as Songkran approached in April. Doctors and policy experts at the Ministry of Public Health urged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to shut down the holidays and impose a lockdown ahead of the holidays to stop the spread of the virus.

They were rebuffed by the prime minister and his cabinet who worried about the economic consequences of imposing a lockdown and shutting down the Songkran travel and spending spree.

The rest, as they say, is history. Covid-19 reached every province in the country. Infection rates reached new heights. People died.

The economic consequences of the prolonged third wave is also more devastating than any economic fallout that would have occurred with a Songkran shut down.

An utter failure of a decision.

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