BANGKOK — The elder sister of His Majesty the King on Wednesday night urged the government to bring Thai students stranded in China’s Wuhan home – the latest high-profile call on authorities to begin the evacuation.
Princess Ubolratana took to social media to question the government’s inaction as well as giving her own experience of trying to avoid the coronavirus in Bangkok. The government said the repatriation could begin by Feb. 4, but added that they have yet to secure permission from the Chinese authorities.
“I don’t know what the government is waiting for. They’re starving over there!” she wrote in response to a comment on Instagram.
Official figures say 64 Thais are residing in Wuhan, where the novel strain of coronavirus is thought to have originated. The city of Wuhan, along with other multiple cities and townships in China, are currently under a lockdown order.
The princess, who gave up royal titles decades ago but retained a place in the Royal Family, also shared photos of herself wearing a qipao at Wat Dibayavari Vihara for Chinese New Year.
“Yesterday I at the temple I took off my face mask temporarily because there were no Chinese tourists there, but when I went back outside I continued to protect myself,” she wrote.
She then congratulated doctors for helping the coronavirus patients to recover, and advised people to wear masks, wash hands frequently, and exercise.
The government is facing a rising chorus of scrutiny from the public as to why it has not brought back Thai citizens from Wuhan. Japan and the United States evacuated their nationals from the virus-hit city earlier this week.
In reply to a query during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, deputy health minister Sathit Pitutecha said the government is seeking to repatriate Thai nationals from Wuhan “within Feb. 4,” but added that the Chinese authorities have yet to “formally” grant the flight permission.
Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who’s heading the government’s efforts to contain the virus, also said on Wednesday night the issue of evacuation is a complicated one, since China “is highly concerned about its national security.”
“We can’t just fly in blindly,” Anutin said in a Facebook Live video. “Even when I fly my own airplane there, I had to get permission.”
But he said the government has already prepared physicians, contamination suits, and other medical equipment for the evacuation once the operation is given a greenlight.
“I will be on that plane myself,” Anutin said. “The day we can pick up Thais in Wuhan, I will be on that plane as well. I’ll bring back Thai people there. I will not leave anyone behind.”
The government said 14 cases of coronavirus cases have been discovered in Thailand so far – all but one of them are Chinese tourists. Five of them already recovered and were cleared of the virus, health officials said.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra