Thailand is extending its state of emergency, in place since late March, to July 31, a government spokesman said yesterday.
This is the third extension and comes despite there being no local Covid-19 cases reported in over a month and the easing of lockdown measures proceeding as planned.
"The emergency decree is essential in keeping control of movements in and outside the kingdom in the way the Communicable Diseases Act cannot," said Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokes-man for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) that is chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
"Besides, state quarantine and tracking can be made possible by the emergency decree. Only this can help us control the disease in a timely manner," he added.
The CCSA decision comes even as Thailand proceeds with its final phase of easing its lockdown measures. Among the venues allowed to reopen tomorrow as part of phase five are schools, bars and nightclubs, as well as entertainment venues such as karaoke bars, soapy massage parlours, and game and Internet cafes - all considered to be at high risk for an outbreak.
The first phase began on May 3 with the reopening of parks, restaurants, open-air sports venues and salons. Restrictions to ensure social distancing are still in place, often leaving many businesses with a fraction of their usual clientele.
Pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues must close by midnight, and have partitions to ensure 1m distance between customers, while sports competitions can be held without spectators.
Questions have been raised over the necessity of the state of emergency when there has been no local transmission for the past 35 days - there have been only Thai returnees in state quarantine, and at times even these number zero.
"There is no solid evidence to justify the extension of the state of emergency. It is now clear that emergency declaration functions as a cover for repressive action to quash dissent under the guise of protecting public health," said Human Rights Watch's Thailand-based researcher Sunai Phasuk.
"Extending the emergency powers will provide the Thai authorities with limitless and accountable powers to repress contrary views, arrest critics and ban peaceful rallies for political reasons," he told The Straits Times.
Among those charged with violating the emergency decree were six protesters calling for answers regarding a Thai activist in exile in Cambodia who was allegedly abducted on June 4. They face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
Despite the penalty, many gathered in and outside the capital on June 24, the 88th anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy, to demand more democracy and power to the people.
The night-time curfew imposed since April 3 was lifted on June 14. Up to 36,000 people were arrested for breaking it during that period, deputy national police spokesman Krisana Pattanacharoen said
The emergency decree is essential in keeping control of movements in and outside the kingdom in the way the Communicable Diseases Act cannot.
DR TAWEESILP VISANUYOTHIN, spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
There is no solid evidence to justify the extension of the state of emergency. It is... a cover for repressive action to quash dissent.
MR SUNAI PHASUK, Human Rights Watch's Thailand-based researcher.
Thailand has reported more than 3,100 coronavirus cases and 58 deaths as of yesterday, which saw seven new cases in state quarantine.
The CCSA yesterday also announced that business people and technical experts from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong will be allowed into the kingdom under a special arrangement. They will be put in quarantine for up to 14 days on arrival.
The date that this will go into effect will be decided in a Cabinet meeting today, said Dr Taweesilp.
International flights, except for repatriation and cargo, have been banned since April 4.
Others who will be allowed to enter Thailand include all foreign spouses and children of Thai nationals and work permit holders, resident permit holders, foreign students and their guardians, and the government's guests.