BANGKOK — Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s administration is facing anger for a slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which has vaccinated just 5% of Thais amid the deadliest wave of the coronavirus pandemic to hit the country. And as health officials have warned, the worst is yet to come.
Thailand reached a record caseload of 11,305 on Tuesday, including the grim death toll since April – scores at 3,408 – in a state that won praise for snuffing out the pandemic in an earlier period.
The resurgence since April has revived a political challenge for Prayuth, who seized power in a 2014 coup, and who survived months of pro-democracy protests last year, with legal charges and heavy police backlash. suppressed the movement.
Even senior medical experts now believe the state was caught flat-footed by the latest wave of infections and oversees a sluggish vaccine rollout, with only 3.5 million of its estimated 70 million population now being infected. have been fully vaccinated.
“We ordered the vaccines very slowly,” said Prasit Vatnapana, dean of the Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, who also holds an unpaid board position with Siam Bioscience – a company owned by the mighty Emperor of Thailand that is responsible for making the AstraZeneca vaccine. – Said a clubhouse chatroom on Sundays.
“We thought we had everything under control.”
back on the streets
aAs the growing virus threatens the government’s pledge to reopen the state to major tourists by October, protesters are back on the streets of Bangkok.
On Sunday, more than 1,000 people defied an emergency order banning gatherings of five or more people, demanding a near-complete lockdown of the capital and the resignation of the government.
Protesters who burnt Prayuth’s effigy near Government House were met with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets fired by riot police.
Protesters say the failed vaccine rollout is the last example of Prayuth’s anemic administration in the country.
They also want the government to move money from its defense budget and buy mRNA vaccines to replace Chinese-made Sinovac – widely considered inferior inside Thailand.
“Covid has exposed the Thai system of governance: hierarchy, nepotism, patronage,” Attapon Buapat, a pro-democracy protest leader, told VOA News.
Thailand’s richest conglomerate, which operates convenience stores, is one of Sinovac’s shareholders, through a stake in another company, adding to widespread mistrust of the brand.
Meanwhile, local production of Astra-Zeneca has been inexplicably delayed despite its royal backing, threatening agreements to distribute the vaccine in Southeast Asia.
“It’s been an exhausting fight with the government last year… but it’s worth it, because people are starting to wake up now,” said Attapon, the leader of the protest, between citizens historically divided along pro and anti lines. Said about the growing consensus.
‘Work for your people’
Analysts say the resurgent caseload has shifted older conservatives to find rare common cause with the pro-democracy camp.
“While younger protesters may not broaden their reform movement to include older demographics, the pandemic is doing it for them,” said political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak from the Institute of Security and International Studies’ Faculty of Political Science Chulalongkorn University.
“The pandemic mismanagement of the Prayuth government is widening the complaints we saw last year. It is turning into a political upheaval.”
The vaccine failure has created a torrent on Thai social media, reaching millions of people stuck at home, many unable to register for vaccinations due to shortages and government websites burdened by massive public demand. And the apps have crashed.
Health officials said Tuesday that the government has signed a late deal with Pfizer to purchase 20 million doses by the end of this year and double that amount in 2022.
“I assure you that the government has never sat down to procure vaccines,” Health Minister Anutin Charanveerakul said on his official Facebook page after the Pfizer deal.
“Be assured that it is our policy to receive the best quality vaccines within our stipulated timelines.”
But with each passing day, the government blames on increasing, as Thais feel that they are fighting the pandemic alone.
Thai filmmaker Apichartpong Weerasethkul said in his acceptance speech at Cannes, “I am fortunate to be standing here, while many of my countrymen cannot travel, where he won the jury prize for Memoriam.
“Many of them are suffering greatly from the pandemic with mismanagement of access to resources, health care and vaccines,” he said, urging the Thai government to “please rise up, and work for your people – right now.”