Opinion: Reopening Thailand in 120 Days Needs a Good Plan, Not Just a Risky Goal

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks in a televised address on June 16, 2021.
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks in a televised address on June 16, 2021.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is taking a bold and risky step on Wednesday by announcing a goal to reopen the whole of Thailand to foreign tourists within 120 days, or by mid October. This is a big gamble and the target requires good planning and execution.

So far, the massive inoculation drive which partially halted a week after the launch has not been reassuring.

To meet Gen. Prayut’s own target of inoculating 100 million jabs by the end of the year requires roughly 470,000 jabs on average per day every day from now. The partial suspension of massive inoculation on Tuesday saw numbers of daily doses drop to below 300,000 doses on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after the height of 472,128 doses achieved last week on June 8. This is the daily average the government should maintain.

On Friday, only 215,885 doses were administered instead of the 470,000 plus daily requirement in order to meet the target. For an additional single day of vaccination to slow down, more people run a higher risk of unnecessary infections, serious illness, and death.

Yes, Prayut apologized earlier this week, but the public has not heard a clear explanation as to what went wrong, what causes the delay, and when the inoculation drive will go full speed anew. This is not reassuring at all.

One must then take the new target of opening Thailand within 120 days with a brick of salt.

Hospital beds caring for those seriously ill due to COVID-19 are now near full capacity and one wonders how the country can manage if more foreign tourists and locals become infected and seriously ill. Hopefully foreign tourists won’t as we expect all of them to have two jabs before entering the kingdom in October.

Prayut talks about taking calculated risks to reopen Thailand in his nation-wide address on Wednesday.

He added that by October, 50 million Thais out of nearly 70 million populations are expected to have received their first jab, but that Thailand cannot wait until everyone received two jabs before reopening.

Yes, probably Thailand cannot wait. Most people in the tourism industry and other related businesses have lost their job for over a year now, but it’s a painful reminder of inequality that people like Prayut already had two shots by now. It’s like an obscenely rich person telling poor people to be content with what they have – or don’t have.

Be that as it may, bringing the tourism industry out of perma hibernation will help the economy if it doesn’t lead to a new massive outbreak that would sink Thailand deeper into re-isolation and economic bankruptcy. We need to hear concrete plans about how the government could relatively safely reopen Thailand within four months without risking a full-blown outbreak.

A plan is only as good as its ability to execute it competently. People are questioning the efficacy of Sinovac in preventing infections from spreading and on Thursday, we hear reports that 350 medical professionals in Indonesia have been infected despite having received two jabs of Sinovac, so in the mid-term, we will probably need different vaccines.

Prayut can talk about reopening Thailand all he wants but in the end, if it’s not equipped with credible and reliable plans, it could become very costly, if not disastrous, and backfire for the country in the end.

I wish Prayut all the success for the economic survival of Thailand much depends on a successful and timely reopening of the kingdom to tourism so the millions who depend on the industry could start earning a proper income anew.

Patpong, Bangkok’s infamous red-light district is currently shut. Sex workers’ rights activist Surang Janyam told me in an interview on Tuesday that half of the establishments are closed for good. Elsewhere, many hotels are almost emptied, resembling ‘Hotel California,’ and a visit to Asiatique, a popular riverfront shopping and dining area for Asian and Thai tourists, reminds me of settings from post-apocalyptic films.

If Prayut fails to meet the deadline of 120 days because Thailand would not be ready by then, for whatever reasons, the public must make sure Prayut acts judiciously and not callously.

By then, at least Prayut would have bought more time in office, 120 days to be exact. Maybe, he will apologize again and offer no proper explanation or accountability as to what went wrong. Or if he opened the kingdom to not just tourism but the biggest COVID-19 outbreak of all, then that could be worse.

No matter where you stand politically, we should wish the plan a success. But it needs to have proper plans and should be executed competently.

During the nation-wide address Prayut said: “We must learn to coexist with [COVID-19] like any other diseases.” For a moment I thought he was referring to himself.

We can’t let Prayut throw Thailand like a dice and must scrutinize his plans closely and hold him accountable because it’s a calculated risk not just for him but for all Thais.