BANGKOK — The City Hall on Wednesday said four coronavirus patients would not reveal their travel history, an offense punishable by jail terms under epidemic laws, but two of them disputed the allegations.
A report published by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration earlier today said the four – designated by their case numbers as 645, 647, 657, and 658 – “refused to disclose the information” about the locations they visited, drawing condemnation from the public and threats of legal prosecution from key officials. But two patients said they were misrepresented in the BMA report.
A relative of Patient 645, whose published timeline said he declined to give information for the dates of Jan. 17-18, said in a message to reporters that he already provided the public health officials with details of his whereabouts on those days.
The BMA later replaced the timeline with a new report that said Patient 645 was staying home on Jan. 17-18, without giving any explanation for the change. Patient 645 was identified as a chef by the official report.
The same report said Patient 657, a public relations worker, refused to provide travel history from Jan. 17 to Jan. 21. But in messages posted online and sent to the media, the person said he already gave the information to the authorities.
“The news said I was an individual who covered the timeline, but in fact I already explained and declared my timeline in detail to the officials who phoned me,” the patient wrote. “Many officials talked to me. I did not have any intent to hide my timeline.”
Multiple requests for comment sent to the BMA went unanswered as of publication time. The disparity also raised doubts whether Patient 647 and Patient 658 – identified as a singer and a “state official,” respectively – indeed refused to disclose their travel timelines.
But the repercussions against the patients already began. Public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the four will face legal action for their alleged refusal to cooperate with the authorities.
“Refusing to disclose information can be considered as giving false testimony to the officer,” Anutin said during an interview with Channel 3’s Hoan Krasae news show. “We will prosecute them. No one is more powerful than doctors.”
“Seeing from their timelines, it is likely that they may have been to the same event,” Anutin continued. “Maybe they were doing something that they didn’t want us to know, so officials will have to find out.”
“All of this mess happened because of those who didn’t respect the law. We must help condemn them because sometimes it hurts them more than being prosecuted and fined,” he added.
Refusing to cooperate with healthcare officials and providing information requested by the authorities during a pandemic is punishable by up to one month in jail under a 2015 law on communicable diseases.
Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, a spokesman for the City Hall, said earlier today that health officials are questioning the four patients again for their whereabouts on the blacked out dates. He said the BMA will prosecute the patients should they still refuse to divulge what they were up to.
“If they still conceal the information, disease control officials will file a police report,” Pongsakorn said.
The spokesman has yet to give any comment to the media after reports emerged that two of the patients have disputed the BMA’s claims.
The City Hall found itself in hot water earlier this month when it was caught scrubbing mentions of convenience stores owned by a powerful conglomerate from its timelines of coronavirus patients.
An official with the BMA defended the omission as a necessary precaution to ward off any potential legal actions.
Two of the patients are believed to have attended the controversial birthday party hosted on Jan. 9 by celebrity Techin “DJ Matoom” Ploypetch at Banyan Tree Hotel.
The gathering, which took place in defiance of the government coronavirus prevention order, has led to a cluster of at least 24 infections so far, health officials said. One doctor called it a “superspreader event,” similar to illegal gambling dens in the eastern seaboard provinces.
Many of the guests linked to the Jan. 9 are said to be celebrities, like singers, actors, and talent managers.
Techin is a morning entertainment news host for GMM Grammy’s EFM radio. He described in his travel history that he stayed home for the whole day from Jan. 11 to 17 and returned to work at GMM Grammy building on Jan. 18.
Techin took a swab test on Jan. 19 after learning that a friend was infected, and tested positive the next day on Jan. 20, according to his self-published travel records.
His fans and some fellow celebrities initially heaped moral support on Techin upon the news that he tested positive for the coronavirus, but public sentiment has turned against him since the revelations that his birthday party is responsible for dozens of infections.
The party was also held despite the calls for social distancing amid the renewed outbreak, which saw restaurants and businesses shut down in a bid to curb the virus.
It remains unclear why Banyan Tree Hotel agreed to host the party in its venue, since a government order issued earlier this month bans all gatherings and banquet functions. Anutin said the BMA will decide on whether legal action will be taken against the hotel, but the BMA has yet to respond to requests for comments from the media.
The news also fueled public anger over the seemingly lopsided enforcement of pandemic laws, which appear to disproportionately target ordinary citizens and small businesses, while letting the affluent off the hook.
As late as last week, government pandemic response center spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin even praised Techin for coming out with the news that he tested positive for the virus.
“I appreciate and admire Techin for telling the public that he was infected,” Taweesin said during a daily briefing on Thursday. “He’s good at remembering the places he had been.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.