BANGKOK – Anger is building within the administration of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha over a slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which has left only 5% of Thais vaccinated amid the deadliest wave of the coronavirus pandemic to hit the country, and as health officials warn, the worst is yet to come.
Thailand hit a record 11,305 cases on Tuesday, adding scores to the grim death toll – 3,408 since April – in a kingdom that had won praise for quelling the pandemic in previous cycles.
The resurgence since April has rekindled the political challenge to Prayuth, which seized power in a 2014 coup, and survived months of raucous pro-democracy protests last year, suffocating the movement with legal proceedings and a heavy police response.
Even top medical experts now concede that the kingdom has been caught off guard by the latest wave of infections and has overseen a slow vaccine rollout, with only 3.5 million of its 70 million people fully vaccinated until. now.
“We ordered vaccines too slowly,” Prasit Watanpana, dean of the medical faculty at Siriraj Hospital, who also holds an unpaid post on the board of Siam Bioscience, a company owned by the powerful monarch, said on Sunday. Thai who holds the local license to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine. a Clubhouse chat room.
âWe thought everything was under control. “
Back to the streets
AAs the virus outbreak threatens the government’s commitment to reopen the kingdom to major tourists by October, protesters are back on the streets of Bangkok.
More than 1,000 people on Sunday defied an almost complete lockdown of the capital and an emergency ordinance banning gatherings of five or more people to demand the resignation of the government.
Protesters burning Prayuth effigies near Government House were greeted with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets fired by riot police.
Protesters say the failed vaccine rollout is the ultimate example of Prayuth’s anemic administration of the country.
They also want the government to withdraw money from its defense budget and buy mRNA vaccines to replace the Chinese-made Sinovac – which is widely considered inferior in Thailand.
“COVID exposed the Thai system of government: hierarchy, nepotism, favoritism,” Attapon Buapat, a pro-democracy protest leader, told VOA News.
Thailand’s richest conglomerate, which operates convenience stores, is among the shareholders of Sinovac, through a stake in another company, adding to widespread distrust of the brand.
Meanwhile, local production of Astra-Zeneca has been inexplicably delayed despite royal backing, threatening agreements to distribute the vaccine across Southeast Asia.
âIt has been exhausting fighting with the government last yearâ¦ but it’s worth it as people are starting to wake up now,â protest leader Attapon said of growing consensus among citizens. historically divided between pro and anti-establishment.
“Work for your people”
Analysts say resurgent workloads have pushed older conservatives to find rare common cause with the pro-democracy camp.
“Although the young protesters have not broadened their reform movement to include older demographics, the pandemic is doing it for them,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a policy analyst at the Institute for Security and International Studies. the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University.
âThe Prayuth government’s mismanagement of the pandemic broadens the types of grievances we saw last year. It is becoming a political maelstrom.
The vaccine fiasco created a torrent on Thai social media, reaching millions of people trapped in their homes, many of whom were unable to sign up for vaccinations due to shortages and government websites and apps that s ‘are collapsing under the burden of massive public demand.
Health officials said on Tuesday the government had signed a late deal with Pfizer to procure 20 million doses by the end of this year, and to double that amount in 2022.
“I assure you that the government has never been satisfied with just procuring the vaccines,” Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on his official Facebook page after the signing of the Pfizer deal.
âRest assured that our policy is to purchase good quality vaccines on time. “
But the government’s blame grows with each passing day, as Thais increasingly feel they are fighting the pandemic on their own.
“I am fortunate to be here when many of my compatriots cannot travel,” Thai filmmaker Apichartpong Weerasethakul said in his acceptance speech at Cannes, where he won the jury prize for Memoria.
âMany of them are suffering greatly from the pandemic with the mismanagement of resources, health care and accessibility of vaccines,â he said, urging the Thai government to âplease, wake up and work for your people – now â.