BANGKOK — The health minister apologized on Thursday night for calling medical personnel infected with coronavirus “careless” and threatening to “whip” them as punishment.
Anutin Charnvirakul’s apology came hours after he said during a news conference yesterday that the infected medical workers were not taking proper care of themselves against the coronavirus, prompting anger from Thailand’s medical community, who’s already grappling with inadequate resources.
“As far as I have been briefed, no doctor has been infected while they are treating Covid-19 patients,” Anutin said when asked about measures to prevent infection among the medical professionals after news surfaced that some of them have caught the virus.
“This is why we have to whip them. We’re not happy with those medical personnel who do not take good care of themselves. They are supposed to be a role model.”
He continued, “The infected medical personnel have been told to isolate themselves. None of them has shown severe symptoms and I wish them to recover soon. This is what we have to be aware of as well. We’re busy watching out for what’s outside of our house, but the inside is still lax.”
Contrary to Anutin’s claim of zero infection, nine healthcare professionals tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, according to health officials. Bannangsta Hospital in the southern province of Yala had to close down yesterday after three medical personnel there were infected.
His remarks were met with a furious backlash online from the medical community and netizens. Hashtags #Anutin and #AnutinGetOut quickly surged to the top-trending on Thai Twitter, while many demanded him to step down.
“You should put a dog muzzle over your mouth and open your eyes to see how medical personnel in the frontline are working. Don’t just bark. I’m so pissed off, dammit,” user @Wil_ariana tweeted.
“You don’t deserve to chair this ministry in the first place. Putting a construction contractor to be in charge of treating patients?” user @Tnyk79YKBGtrEGz tweeted, referring to Anutin’s past career as a construction tycoon before entering politics.
On online petition site Change.org, almost 25,000 people joined a call to remove him from office as of Friday afternoon.
Few hours after the news conference, the health minister posted a video clip apologizing to healthcare professionals, saying that it was a miscommunication since he was under pressure and had not carefully listened to the question.
“Today I made a miscommunication during the interview. I’m deeply sorry for what happened. I have no ill intention to criticize anyone. I only have praise, trust, and respect for all of you,” Anutin said. “I might be under pressure and did not fully listen to the question, so I was sidetracked and went on to something else.”
Anutin said he was merely condemning infection unrelated to medical operations, and went on to say that he’s trying to secure protective gears for medical personnel.
“I was told that some of the doctors did not get the virus from treating patients, but nevertheless, I was trying to say that this is a critical time for us medical personnel to treat Covid-19 patients,” Anutin continued.
His comments were the latest gaffe related to his communication skill. Earlier this month, he shut down his Facebook page without any apparent reason after he posted, and then later removed, an order requiring people from nine countries to be placed in a self-quarantine.
He also shut down his Twitter account after he doubled down on his discriminatory remarks on Caucasian tourists, saying that they are “dirty” and posing more risk of infection than Asians.