By THE NATION
The Thai government’s rapid response to the deadly outbreak has been applauded by many in the international community and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
However, halting the rise in infections has come at the expense of ordinary Thais, who are sacrificing their livelihoods in the war being waged against Covid-19. Many have lost their jobs in complying with government policies to control the virus, including the shutdown of businesses and the night-time curfew.
As the days pass, these people are being forced to dip into their life savings to survive in an economy frozen by the pandemic response. Many have realised that a deadlier threat than Covid-19 is approaching and will soon reach their doorsteps. Its name is famine.
Government aid measures, while barely adequate, are still not reaching many of the people who have been hardest hit by this crisis. In a sad irony, the website where people can register for aid is called “We do not leave anyone behind”.
The evidence is overwhelming: People desperate for the Bt5,000 monthly handout have stormed the Finance Ministry, long lines are forming outside gold shops as Thais rush to sell jewellery for cash to buy food. And worst of all, the number of suicides is rising as the economic recession sends people into a spiral of stress and despair.
General Prayut cannot just focus on the virus: he must also manage the lives of 67 million Thais, many of whom will soon face starvation if the current restrictions on daily continue much longer.
He must make sure that aid measures enable people to afford the basic necessities of life, and that the money first goes to the ones who need it most.
He also has to ignore opposition politicians who are criticising the government’s measures with a hidden agenda. Now is not the time for political debate, when people are facing the very real prospect of hunger leading to death.
Starving people will resort to drastic actions, including breaking laws and restrictions set by the government to control the outbreak. If Prayut ignores this fact, the repercussions that follow could radically change both the Covid-19 situation in Thailand and the status of his government.
This is a translated version of the “Khon Thai” column that appeared in the Krungthep Turakij newspaper on April 16.