Two days before the next mass rally against his government is set to take place in Bangkok, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Thursday evening warned that demonstrations could spread the COVID-19.
Prayuth linked the growing protests against his rule to the specter of a second wave of infections in a televised address.
“We shouldn’t do anything that could put Thailand back in lockdown mode again,” he said.
He singled out activists planning to rally Saturday and Sunday as creating “big risks” of another outbreak.
“Thai people, millions of them, will be affected by this,” Prayuth said, citing the enormous economic downturn and outbreaks abroad.
There’s scant evidence of the virus in Thailand, which went 100 days without detecting a single case of local transmission until earlier this month. Two cases have been logged in the past two weeks.
His government has been accused of exploiting the pandemic to clamp down on dissent. An emergency decree remains in place since it was enacted in March and has been used to prosecute organizers and activists.
His comments seemed intended to depress turnout as he did not announce any measures to block the event set to take place at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus in the old quarter. On Sunday, protesters plan to march on the Government House.
He ended the speech saying the kingdom is in a critical time, and everyone should just put politics aside and join hands to help each other through difficult times.
Additional writing Todd Ruiz