Thailand to extend state of emergency amid fears of second coronavirus wave

BANGKOK – Thailand plans to extend its state of emergency till the end of September to stave off a potential second wave of coronavirus infections, despite not recording any local transmission for close to three months.

This one-month extension is the fifth since the initial order in March.

“We can’t afford to have any second wave of infections, especially now we are in the normal phase… opening businesses and restarting activities,” Mr Natapanu Nopakun, deputy spokesman of the foreign ministry said on Friday (Aug 21) at a briefing by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

Officials say the emergency decree allows the state to cut red tape and streamline its response to the Covid-19 outbreak, adding that it does not affect people’s daily lives since the country lifted its curfew in June.

However, the blighted economic outlook has helped fuel anti-government protests led by young people, which continue to gather steam nationwide. On Sunday, over 10,000 people massed in Bangkok demanding that the Constitution be amended and fresh elections be called.

Thailand so far has detected 3,390 infections, including an additional imported case reported on Friday. New outbreaks in erstwhile regional front runners like Vietnam and New Zealand have put Thai officials on their guard.

Still, Asean’s second-largest economy has allowed state schools to resume normal operations last week instead of staggering attendance.

Spectators will also be allowed back into stadiums next month for the local football league.

Strict border controls continue to batter Thailand’s tourism- and export-dependent economy, which shrank 12.2 per cent in the April to June quarter from a year earlier, the sharpest contraction since the Asian financial crisis in 1998.

Thailand’s central bank expects a full-year decline of 8.1 per cent.

Hotel and airfare subsidies to stimulate domestic tourism have so far drawn a tepid response, prompting the government to look into raising the benefits and extending them to corporate travellers.

The poor jobs outlook is fuelling mounting protests around the country, with demonstrators criticising inequality which they say is perpetuated by the military-backed government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who staged the 2014 coup.

The peaceful protests, which started in university campuses and have gradually moved to the streets, have been swelled in recent weeks.

Protesters have also begun calling for a reform of the monarchy, a subject previously considered untouchable in a kingdom where defaming or insulting the king, queen or heir apparent is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

High school students have also rallied in support of the protesters by wearing white ribbons and doing three-finger salutes while singing the national anthem.

In response to reports of school administrators intimidating these students, the state has reminded schools to allow students lawful expression of dissent.

Scores of activists arrested this week and later released on bail included Mr Arnon Nampa, a lawyer who first made the call for monarchy reform, as well as a musician Dechathorn Bamrungmuang whose group’s rap against the government has gone viral. They have been charged with sedition and other offences like violating health and traffic regulations.

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