Ministry Tells Students to Avoid Protest Due to Coronavirus

A protest at Chiang Mai University on Feb. 25, 2020.

BANGKOK — Citing fears of possible coronavirus infection, the Ministry of Higher Education on Tuesday urged students and teachers to stay away from the ongoing protests.

The notice was released alongside seven other measures recommended by the ministry, including avoiding overseas travels and disinfecting teaching facilities. But a physician criticized the statement as overreacting and politically motivated.

“The Ministry of Public Health maintained that the epidemic is still in Phase 2 (infection from overseas) and not yet Phase 3 (domestic epidemic). This warning is therefore an overreaction,” Cha Na Hospital director Supatha Suwannakit wrote online. “It does not have any academic basis, and it has a political intent. This is inappropriate.”

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Instead of trying to discourage students from participating in the protests, Supatha said the government should hand out free face masks for the demonstrators.

The ministry’s statement is the latest attempt by the authorities to put a stop on the series of protests breaking out in Thailand’s universities after a popular opposition party was disbanded on Feb. 21.

Police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen on Tuesday also said the students should think carefully before joining a protest that might violate the laws and liberty of others.

Any legal violation would be dealt with severely and strictly in accordance with the laws, Col. Kissana said.

Today’s rallies are scheduled to take place at Srinakharinwirot, Thammasat, and Silpakorn universities, among several others.

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