Coronavirus: State of Emergency declared in Thailand by PM Prayut, with tough new restrictions

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wears a protective mask due to the coronavirus outbreak, as he comes out from a meeting at Government House in Bangkok, on March 24, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday (March 25), unveiling tougher restrictions on normal life in Thailand as the Ministry of Public Health confirmed 107 new infections in the country over a 24-hour period.

The emergency will come into effect nationwide from midnight on Wednesday and remain in force until April 30.

The decree has barred travel to Thailand via land, sea and air, though certain exceptions have been made for goods transportation, diplomatic missions and foreigners with work permits. In addition, Thai citizens with embassy permits and health certificates, besides any other journey approved by the Prime Minister, will be exempt from the travel ban.

All nightclubs, playgrounds and sports venues in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Prakan and Samut Sakhon - which were adjudged to pose a high risk of infection - were ordered to close down indefinitely, as were spas, gyms and massage parlours, reported Khaosod English.

Under the emergency decree, hoarding of food, drinking water and medical supplies will be punished.

People aged younger than five and older than 70 - who are seen to be more vulnerable to the disease - have also been told to avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary.

The decree suggested that these vulnerable people should venture outside only for essential activities, such as medical appointments, banking activities, the purchase of food, to contact the police or carry out law enforcement orders.

People with pre-existing conditions were also asked to stay indoors. All large gatherings have been banned.

Commuting between provinces has been discouraged, and people who travel to other provinces will be required to undergo health checks and furnish their personal details for possible quarantine.

Violation of the provisions of the decree can be punished with a jail term of up to two months under the 2005 Royal Decree on Emergency Situations. In addition, any other acts that are not covered by the decree but are seen to jeopardise public health and safety will be punishable under existing laws.

There was no mention of a curfew in the emergency decree, but it provided security officers with immunity from prosecution when carrying out orders issued by their superiors in relation to the outbreak.

Establishments providing essential goods and services will continue to operate, including banks, factories, markets, financial institutions, gas stations and online delivery services.

The emergency authorises Mr Prayut to helm efforts to fight the virus with the help of the permanent secretaries of public health, interior, commerce and foreign affairs.

The commander of the armed forces has been given the responsibility of handing security-related matters.

"Only necessary measures will be issued, to prevent the spread of the virus," the announcement said, according to the Bangkok Post.

As part of the effort to combat Covid-19, a centre that was set up to handle matters related to the disease will be redesignated as a Covid Emergency Centre, under which various committees will be set up to monitor the implementation of various directives.

The declaration of a state of emergency has raised concerns about the possibility of the decree being used to crack down on dissidents.

Meanwhile, Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Thailand has risen to 934 following the latest cases.

Of these, 860 cases involved patients under treatment, 70 people had recovered and been discharged, and there have been four deaths.

The cases can be divided into three groups, according to Dr Taweesin.

Infections in the first group of 27 cases were connected to infection clusters: four had attended a boxing event in a stadium, five had worked in or been to entertainment venues, four had attended religious ceremonies and 14 had been in close contact with others previously confirmed as infected.

Among the individuals in the first cluster were a freelancer, a company employee, merchant, students, taxi drivers, police and prisoners.

The second group comprised 13 people, of whom six had just returned from overseas (two Thais and a Briton, Finn, American, and German). Meanwhile, five were working in crowded areas or close to foreigners. Two members of the group were doctors - one was a surgeon who displayed mild symptoms after working with 25 medical staff, who now need to self-quarantine.

People in the last group of 67 are still being investigated over how they were infected.

Meanwhile, 13 people were the latest to fully recover from the disease and return home.

In a separate development, about 60,000 migrant workers living in Thailand have fled the country since the authorities shut malls and many businesses at the weekend to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a Thai interior ministry official said on Wednesday, reported Reuters.

A Thai interior ministry official told Reuters about 60,000 migrant workers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar had returned home as of Tuesday.

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