[UPDATE] Thai health minister says the country is unable to stop coronavirus outbreak in interview with foreign media

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told UK’s Sky News in an interview that Thailand was powerless “to stop the spread” of coronavirus and that he expects the number of infections to rise.

Speaking to Sky News, Anutin said that the main aim of his ministry was to detect all carriers of the pathogen as they entered the country and “apply necessary measures” as the situation continues to develop.

“Of course we expect more people to get sick but we are able to identify all of them,” Sky quotes Anutin as saying.

Poor optics

It is not the first time that statements made by the health minister has made the headlines. Over the weekend the billionaire businessman came under fire for a Facebook post he made questioning the critical responses to the removal of temperature scanners at both major Bangkok airports.

“Today, they already canceled all flights from Wuhan. For heaven’s sake, why would the airport keep monitors at the GATE, please think a little bit before you criticize. Right now we are controlling the situation.” 

The post generated intense negative reactions and added fuel to the barrage of criticisms that were being leveled at the coalition government under the hashtag #crappygovernment (#รัฐบาลเฮงซวย)

On Sunday, Anutin continued his run of poor optics by calling the coronavirus outbreak “just a flu.”

“It’s just another kind of flu, that’s what I see….and what do we do when we see someone with a sickness, we should do the same [here].”

The Minister of Public Health also said that he “was not a doctor” but that he had “looked after [himself] just fine for over fifty years.”

Flight to Wuhan

In a Facebook live chat with concerned citizens, Anutin added that he was prepared to go to the Chinese city himself to rescued trapped Thai civilians.

“I will go get them in Wuhan personally, I will be in the plane that goes to get them. There is nothing to fear.”

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told reporters earlier in the week that Thailand was currently not looking to evacuate citizens from China as it had not received Chinese permission to do so.

Don said that he trusted the Chinese government to effectively blockade Wuhan as it has experience from the SARS epidemic. Don added that he also trusted the Chinese government to look after Thai citizens in the area.

Local media reported on Wednesday night that Thai military officials on exchange in China had been evacuated and had already returned to Thailand.

Cabinet ministers have since reversed course and said they were looking at options in bringing back the Thai citizens including chartered flights as China would not allow a military plane into their airspace.

Chinese tourism

According to the Ministry of Public Health, officials are monitoring more than 20,000 Chinese tourists that have entered the country since the start of the outbreak. Most do not show symptoms of the virus.

The ministry said late Wednesday that it had quarantined 96 people to monitor for signs of coronavirus. According to the Ministry’s press office, 29 of those patients were taken from the airports to hospitals around Bangkok.

Chinese make up the largest proportion of nationalities entering Thailand and the kingdom is one of the most popular destinations for the mainland.

(Photo credit: Ministry of Public Health)

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