Managing such crises and addressing their socio-economic consequences requires audacious policy action to maintain functioning healthcare systems, guarantee the continuity of education, preserve businesses and jobs, and maintain the stability of financial markets. Political leadership at the centre is essential to sustain the complex political, social and economic balance of adopting containment measures to reduce the impact of the pandemic while ensuring the provision of essential services. Such leadership is essential for maintaining citizens’ trust in government. In a crisis such this, official authorities are responsible to manage the situation pursuant to the laws.
This article aims to focus on the Thai government’s duties to manage COVID-19 situation. There are two main laws strictly stipulating the duties of the government: Thai Constitution and The Official Information Act (2540). Moreover, the current situation of COVID-19 in Thailand together with analogy cases from South-East Asia countries will also be addressed n this article.Read more At:
Thai Government’s Duties to Manage Covid-19 Situation in regard to Thai Constitution
The state has a duty to control and prevent diseases as stated in Section 55 paragraph one and two of Thai Constitution, providing that “The State shall ensure that the people receive efficient public health services universally, ensure that the public has the basic knowledge in relation to health promotion and disease prevention, and shall promote and support the development of wisdom on Thai traditional medicine to maximise its benefits. The public health services under paragraph one shall cover health promotion, control and prevention of diseases, medical treatment and rehabilitation.”
According to the fact, there is much evidence showing that mRNA vaccines are the most effective in preventing infection, including the Delta variant. Nevertheless, despite the fact that mRNA vaccine is capable of creating herd immunity, the Thai government chose to buy Sinovac and AstraZeneca, which were made by less effective technology. In order to comply with the law, the government must procure the mRNA vaccines which are proven to be the most effective one at the moment for all Thai people as soon as possible.
Section 47 states that “(1) A person shall have the right to receive public health services provided by the State. (2) An indigent person shall have the right to receive public health services provided by the State free of charge as provided by law. (3) A person shall have the right to the protection and eradication of harmful contagious diseases by the State free of charge as provided by law.”. According to the aforementioned provision under Section 47, all Thai people should be able to receive public health provided by the government, which is to get vaccinated free of charge.
At this moment, the government’s duties pursuant with the law is to cater mRNA vaccines, free of charge, as the main vaccines for Thai people, not as a choice preserved for the rich. Therefore, in consonance with Section 47 and Section 55 of Thai Constitution, the mRNA vaccine shall be provided to all Thai citizens universally without charges.
Thai Government’s Omission in regard to The Duties Specified in The Act
In September 1997, Thailand became the first country in ASEAN to enact a freedom of information law. The Official Information Act (OIA) became a new benchmark for a free society as well as its openness and transparency. For the first time, the public had the right to access information, especially that previously held by the government.
Section 9 subsection 3 of The Official Information Act (2540) stipulates that “Subject to section 14 and section 15, a State agency shall make available at least the following official information for public inspection in accordance with the rules and procedure prescribed by the Board: a work-plan, project and annual expenditure estimate of the year of its preparation.”. According to the provision under Section 9 subsection 3, as mentioned, Thai people are entitled to access the information concerning any work-plans and projects carried out by the government.
Currently, Covid-19 situation is really worrying for government agencies and health workers as new clusters of infections are discovered almost daily. During this time, Sinovac is found to be the vast majority of vaccines catered by the government. However, the efficiency of Sinovac is ranked at the bottom, and far behind those of other vaccines e.g., AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna, due to several credible articles. Yet, the fact is that none of the factual information of Sinovac’s efficiency is neither published nor announced by the government.
In accordance with the provision under Section 9 subsection 3 of The Official Information Act (2540), the government should make any work-plans and projects available allowing the public to see details of vaccine procurement and distribution under the open-data principle. Likewise, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) must also divulge details of the processes involved in proposing, approving, and signing vaccine procurement contracts in the past and for similar contracts in the future. Important conditions associated with securing orders with vaccine manufacturers must also be made public, as must crucial details including the number of doses ordered, the length of purchase contracts, deadlines for vaccine delivery, penalties for late delivery, and any waivers of liability for manufacturers which miss delivery deadlines.
The crisis has caused a loss of lives, damaged the economy, strained the public health system, and shaken public faith in the government like never before. Efficient management and fair distribution of vaccines holds the key to tackling the crisis. Making data accessible to people would dispel any myths and counter fake news. Also, it would speak of the government's sincere intention to manage the vaccine procurement and distribution with accountability by letting people know what relevant action plans and policies it has put in place. Lastly, the disclosure of information would bring about cooperation from the people and act as a source of reliable data.
COVID-19 Pandemic in South-East Asia
At the moment, the COVID-19 pandemic situation is affecting South-East Asia. For example, Lao People’s Democratic Republic also had 226 new cases on 14 August. However, according to the most recent update on 14 August, the overall number of COVID-19 infections in Laos is 9,894, with 9 deaths and 4,240 cases recovered. Even though COVID-19 has affected many people, the Laos government decides to participate in COVAX which is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and World Health Organization. Its purpose is to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. As a result, Lao PDR receives the vaccines from participating countries, such as the United States, which donated more than one million Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines to Lao PDR through the COVAX Facility on 19 July, and Japan which donated about 616,820 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines to Laos PDR through COVAX Facility on 2 August. Nevertheless, due to the increase of positive cases, the Laos government has decided to implement a lockdown on 19 July and extend it until 18 August because of an increase in positive cases.
COVID-19 Situation in Thailand
Currently, the number of COVID-19 infected people and deaths have increased significantly in this year. According to the most recent update on 15 August, the overall infection rate is 907,157, with 7,552 deaths and 668,662 cases recovered. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thai government chose to purchase Sinovac to control this pandemic and decided to announce lockdown and curfew measures with dark-red or maximum and strict control zones.
However, according to the most recent update on 15 August, positive cases have increased significantly to 21,882 with 209 deaths. Because of the increased number of positive cases and a lack of frontline medical professionals, this situation has impacted frontline medical staff who must deal with risk as hours and workloads increase. Furthermore, the vaccines chosen to vaccinate frontline medical staff are Sinovac and AstraZeneca, both are less effective than mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna. Moreover, Thailand is not a member of COVAX, which is the vaccination pillar of access to COVID-19 tools. If Thailand decided to be a member of COVAX, Thailand would have to pay for more costly vaccines and would be unable to pick a vaccine from any manufacturer. Also, it will include advance payment. Even though the Thai government got 1.5 million Pfizer vaccine doses from the United States as a booster dose for frontline medical staff, it will be insufficient for medical people and frontline medical staff.
About the lockdown and curfew restrictions, it will be evaluated again on 18 August to assess the COVID-19 situation and will be extended until the end of August if the situation does not improve. While these policies may be beneficial to control pandemics and social distancing, they have had a significant negative impact on the economy and education. About the economy in Thailand, according to the increase of positive cases, the lockdown measure and vaccination plan that is falling behind schedule have an impact on the tourism industry which is one of the most significant determinants for the country's economy. Additionally, as a result of the lockdown measures, schools and universities must close and begin the semester with online classes, which has an impact on students who lack access to the technology and also affects the mental health such as stress, anxiety, and emotional disorder.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic continues to afflict people all over the world, every government should take appropriate measures for its citizens and control the situation so that it would not have a widespread impact. If Thailand continues to extend the lockdown measures, without providing more vaccinations to its citizens, it will have a negative influence on citizens and the growth of the country.
Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand B.E. 2560
The Official Information Act B.E. 2540
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