BANGKOK - Thailand will extend its state of emergency, in place since late March, by another month to July 31, a government spokesman said on Monday (June 29). This is the third extension and comes despite there being no local cases reported in over a month and the easing of lockdown measures proceeding as planned.
"The emergency decree is essential in keeping control of the movements in and outside of the kingdom in the way the Communicable Diseases Act cannot," said Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman 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 on July 1 as part of Phase 5 are all schools, bars and nightclubs, as well as entertainment venues such as karaoke bars and soapy massage parlours, and game and internet cafes - all considered to be 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.
All pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues need to close by midnight, and partitions must be set up to ensure 1m distance between each customer, while sports venues can hold competitions 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," Mr Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch's Thailand-based senior researcher, told The Straits Times.
"Extending the emergency powers will provide Thai authorities limitless and accountable powers to repress contrary views, arrest critics, and ban peaceful rallies for political reasons," he added.
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 sentence, many gathered in and outside the capital on June 24, the 88th anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy, to demand for 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 the curfew during the period, according to deputy national police spokesman Pol Gen Krisana Pattanacharoen.
Thailand has recorded a total of 3,169 coronavirus cases and 58 deaths as of Monday, which saw seven new cases - Thais returning from India and the United States - in state quarantine.
The CCSA on Monday also issued its first list of foreigners allowed to travel into Thailand. International flights except repatriation and cargo have been banned since April 4. The ban is expected to end on Tuesday (June 30).
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.
When this will go into effect will be decided in a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, said Dr Taweesilp.
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.