While the public is implored to remain vigilant about social distancing and be patient with strict rules, it seems Thailand’s top health official and his gang forgot that it applies to them as well.
Public anger was stoked anew yesterday by photos showing Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who withdrew early in the pandemic after putting his foot in his mouth too many times, dining with other officials without the social distancing or tacky plastic barriers the common rabble have been asked to endure.
“They keep telling citizens to stay at home, and we obey. I haven’t taken my mother and child anywhere for almost three months now, and these pics make me feel really bad,” Duangden Nuremrum Cherdchoo wrote.
Posts calling attention to the photos identified them as being taken May 20, not long after restaurants were allowed to reopen under strict rules. They had been posted by a restaurant expressing gratitude toward the minister and have since been deleted.
Anutin could not be reached by phone Thursday and has not responded publicly to the controversy.
“Can I throw these photos in Taweesilp’s face?” Facebooker Wisanu Upatumphan said, referring to Taweesilp Wisanuyothin, who admonishes the public for its behavior daily as spokesman for the COVID-19 task force.
Taweesilp on Thursday reported a surge of 17 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, though all were said to have been found in Thais in quarantine after returning from overseas. All newly detected infections in the past two weeks have been found in Thais returning home under a government-backed repatriation program.
Some saw the images of health officials dining casually by the sea as evidence that social control measures, including the ongoing state of emergency, are not about health concerns.
“That’s what we have been suspecting, that they are afraid of mobs, not COVID,” user Aphisit Sansopha said. “When we pressure them, they cry and ask for sympathy. When we give them a chance, they do the same.”
The photos were published to a Facebook group yesterday in a post that asked whether the health minister and friends were acting as role models.
“Setting a good example is important because what we express is from what we have learned since we were kids,” a page admin wrote. “If the teachers don’t do it, it means that the things they teach are not important.”
Anutin rose to his position after last year’s election as head of the Bhumjaitai Party, a key member of the ruling coalition. Seen as a promising reformer due to his championing of medical cannabis and other policies, his star dimmed as he racked up controversies including a number of offensive comments.
In February he was forced to apologize after saying “fucking farangs” should be kicked out of the kingdom for not wearing masks and blaming health care workers for becoming infected in late March. He was blamed for the administration’s early stumbles in responding to the pandemic and deactivated his Facebook account after declaring major policies that didn’t come to pass.
Update June 5: Though Anutin has not yet addressed the controversy, the restaurant which posted the photo of health minister and his entourage with a message thanking his patronage did comment today.
The Chanchol Restaurant in Chonburi’s Sattahip apologized for the “leaked” photos and said it didn’t know that Anutin was among the guests. It bears repeating that images of its original post included the words “Anutin” and “we were glad to welcome you.”