Shrugs meet Prayuth’s vow to ‘fully reopen’ Thailand in 4 months

A 2020 file photo of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. Photo: Prayuth Chan-o-cha / Facebook
A 2020 file photo of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. Photo: Prayuth Chan-o-cha / Facebook

Reactions ranged Thursday from doubt to blame following the prime minister’s vow to reopen the nation by mid-October after vaccinating at least 50 million people.

Many in the chatterclass were taking with a grain of salt last night’s national address in which Prayuth Chan-o-cha, whose administration is taking fire for its faltering vaccination drive, said the virus would become an endemic threat the public would have to learn to live with. Many noted his record of bold-yet-ultimately-false promises.

“Seriously, do you believe that Prayuth will open the country within 120 days? Even back in 2014, he said that he wouldn’t do a coup,” Twitter user Seriouslythings wrote.

Others noted that the biggest barrier to Prayuth’s reopening goal was actually the prime minister himself – and math.

“If the injection rate is 300k per day (at least), the next 120 days will mean about 36 million people getting their first dose. At that rate, we *may* be able to open as a bubble country (Unless there are some exceptional COVID-19 variant cases happening), [businesses] at least will have some money to recover,” Poeticalization tweeted. “Admit it, the most important obstacle in the country is the Prayuth Chan-o-cha administration.”

Prayuth, who’s come in for withering criticism due to the problem-plagued vaccine rollout, cited broad economic pain Wednesday night for insisting that the nation “fully reopen” within 120 days.

“The time has now come for us to look ahead and set a date for when we can fully open our country and start receiving visitors because reopening the country is one of the important ways to start reducing the enormous suffering of people who have lost their ability to earn an income,” Prayuth said in his address.

“I am, therefore, setting a goal for us to be able to declare Thailand fully open within 120 days from today, and for the tourism centers which are ready to do so even faster.”

There has been no immediate reaction from the national hotel association, chamber of commerce or other major business groups.

All eyes are on Phuket, which will be the first destination open to vaccinated tourists July 1, as part of the much-ballyhooed Phuket Sandbox initiative.

“To get to our target of opening the country in 120 days, we will pilot with Phuket to relax some restrictions and receive visitors using a sandbox model,” Prayuth said. “I have accelerated this matter for it to be considered and decided at next week’s Cabinet meeting.”

Prayuth acknowledged that reopening would come with risks – rising COVID-19 infections may take place again – but businesses would be able to stay afloat after over a year and a half of great suffering.

He acknowledged the growing consensus that the global lag in vaccinations makes it unlikely the virus will ever be eliminated. 

We must be ready to live with some risk and just try to keep it at a manageable level, and let people go back to being able to earn a living … I know there are some risks but this is the right direction for Thailand,” he added.

Despite notable hiccups including vaccine delays due to supply shortfalls, Prayuth sounded a hopeful note. By the projection set in his goal, about 50 million people will have received at least a first shot of a vaccine by mid-October. So far, only 5 million people have been inoculated with at least one dose. Only 1.8 million people – 2.6% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, the COVID-19 task force said this week.

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