BANGKOK — PM Prayut Chan-o-cha warned the nation Thursday that an upcoming anti-government demonstration may result in a surge in coronavirus cases.
Prayut delivered the warning in a televised broadcast at 6pm, two days ahead of the major protest. The Prime Minister said the protests could damage the gains achieved by doctors and nurses who worked hard to contain the virus.
“I would like to take this chance to tell various groups that want to protest for various reasons, that protesting is exponentially multiplying the risk of infection and will create a new wave of COVID infection in Thailand,” PM Prayut said in a recorded speech.
“You are risking destroying the livelihoods of tens of millions of Thais,” he went on.
“Gathering risks a second wave and will have devastating effects that will multiply the economic problems of the country to levels that have never been seen in my time. Think about this.”
Another part of the speech read, “I want to tell everyone coming out to protest clearly that I hear what you are saying. I hear your political concerns and dissatisfaction with the Constitution.”
“I ordered the security officials to handle the demonstrators peacefully, because I believe that the protesters have enough knowledge to be careful and stay within the line. But I want to tell everyone planning to come to think of your fellow Thais, the tens of millions who will be affected. You are creating more risk from COVID, and risking us going into lockdown again.”
“I respect your feelings. But today, Thailand is facing emergency pain that we have to take care of first, which is the economic problems brought on by COVID-19 worldwide.”
Prayut said the public must let the government “win COVID and get through this global crisis first, then we can come back to politics.”
Demonstrators are set to gather either at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus or Sanam Luang on Saturday. Protest leaders said they will camp overnight and march to Government House on the following day; they also teased a “big surprise” and confirmed the monarchy will be discussed onstage.
Security officers estimate a crowd of 20,000 – 50,000 people.
Protest co-organizer Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak slammed the Prime Minister’s remark as an attempt to stir up fears and discourage people from joining the rally.
“I think he’s using an imaginary threat to block the struggle of the people,” Parit said by phone. “We already plan to put some prevention measures in place. We will prepare some facemasks to be handed out, and we will set up health screening checkpoints.”
He added, “Since the Prime Minister is accusing us of being a disease carrier, I’d like to ask everyone not to fall for the government’s lie, and bring their own facemasks and alcohol gel to the protest.”
Civil rights activist Arnon Nampha, who is set to speak on stage Saturday, suggested that the announcement is an attempt by the government to discourage protesters from joining the rally.
“He’s using the virus as a tool again,” Arnon said. “There’s no outbreak in the country for months now … I don’t believe the rally will be the source of the new outbreak. His concern is baseless.”
In today’s news briefing, the government’s pandemic response center reported no new COVID-19 patient. The country’s cumulative cases of infection now stands at 3,490.
The lack of local transmission didn’t stop senior government officials, such as health minister Anutin Charnvirakul and supreme armed forces commander Pornpipat Benyasri, from warning against large gatherings in the past. They cite the risk of infection and possible violation of the Emergency Decree, which bans political assembly.