BANGKOK — Foreign affairs minister Don Pramudwinai said there is no immediate plan to evacuate Thai nationals stranded in Wuhan, which has been placed under lockdown by the Chinese government in a bid to contain the new coronavirus contagion.
Don’s comment came amid rising public anger over the government’s alleged negligence to fly the citizens back from Wuhan, despite calls for action from some. The fury was also fed by revelations that the navy has quietly flown its personnel back from the Chinese city two days ago.
“The Prime Minister understands that this issue takes time,” Don said. “As long as the Thai nationals are safe and receiving assistance, that’s our highest goal … Thais must be safe. They must be freed from any [harm].”
Don said Thai consular staff and Chinese officials are already assisting Thai residents in Wuhan.
The military announced last week a C-130 transport plane was made ready to evacuate Thai citizens from Wuhan, only to later admit that it had no authority to enter the Chinese airspace. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a televised broadcast on Monday that China has not yet authorized a flight there.
Although Japan and South Korea announced they have secured permission to fly chartered planes to China and evacuate some of their citizens, Don said today he had no knowledge of an evacuation by other countries.
“To this moment, no country could fly its aircraft to bring back its citizens,” Don said. “It’s still under discussion with the Chinese authorities.”
Japan says its first flight will leave on Tuesday evening, while South Korea’s evacuation is due to start on Thursday.
At least 106 people had died from the novel strain of coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan. The city has been placed in a “lockdown” – no travel allowed inside or out – since Jan. 23, stranding a number of Thai nationals there.
Yet a media mouthpiece for the armed forces said 20 navy officers who had been overseeing construction of Thailand’s brand-new submarine in Wuhan had already returned home.
In an online post published yesterday, military reporter Wassana Nanuam said the 20 men returned to Thailand via civilian flights on Jan. 26, but the navy’s high command kept their return a secret to avoid “causing panic.”
“The Royal Thai Navy has a policy of refraining from presenting news that could cause panic or confusion in the society,” Wassana quoted the navy commander as saying.
Medical inspection concluded that all 20 officers were cleared of the virus, she added.
Following backlash from social media, the navy said today in a statement that the 20 officers already left Wuhan for personal trips before the city was placed in lockdown, and that they separately traveled back to Thailand on their own.