Thai riot police shot tear gas and fired water cannons at pro-democracy activists rallying in the capital as thousands marched to protest the government’s management of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
Demonstrators in face masks marched near government house in central Bangkok, despite restrictions on public gatherings of more than five people amid record daily infections. They demanded Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha to resign and divert the fiscal budget allocated to the royal family and the military towards the management of the Covid-19 outbreak and procurement of more vaccines, according to local media reports.
Thailand is grappling with its worst Covid-19 outbreak, fuelled by the highly-contagious delta variant. Cumulative cases have exceeded 400,000 and daily fatalities are breaking records.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Sunday instructed the National Vaccine Institute’s director, Nakorn Premsri, to draft a ministerial announcement to set a proportion of AstraZeneca vaccines for exports and the rest for domestic use. The draft will be submitted to the nation’s Covid panel for consideration in an effort to increase the country’s vaccine supplies, government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul said in a Twitter post.
The move comes after Isranews Agency reported on leaked letters between Anutin and AstraZeneca Plc in June that showed Thailand had initially ordered 3 million doses of vaccines to be delivered to the nation each month, disputing the government’s promise to the public to deliver 10 million shots monthly.
In an interview with Isranews, the minister said he wrote back to the vaccine producer and advocated for 10 million doses a month.
The Ministry of Public Health plans to call a meeting with Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration to discuss the country’s need for mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and
Moderna. The ministry’s department of health will also go ahead with its mixed-vaccination strategy from Monday, it said.
AstraZeneca had planned to produce 180 million doses of its Covid vaccine this year through its partner Siam Bioscience Ltd, with a target to export two-thirds of the output to countries in Southeast Asia, while Thailand was expected to receive a third of the production under an earlier agreement.
Thailand tightened restrictions in three more provinces on Sunday as the country reported another day of record new coronavirus infections. The provinces were added to the highest-risk list, which comes with an overnight curfew of 9 pm to 4 am, limited services and operating hours for restaurants and shopping malls, and closures of spas and beauty clinics. The Bangkok metropolitan area and four southern provinces are already on the list.
The country reported 11,397 new Covid-19 infections on Sunday, with the number of cases exceeding 10,000 for the second straight day. There were 101 more deaths, bringing the total to 3,341. Cumulative cases are at 403,386.
The move to tighten restrictions follows a relentless surge in infections and hospitalizations that have stretched the nation’s health care system, especially in the virus epicenter Bangkok. The government is scrambling to procure more vaccines to inoculate the population and so far, 10.1% of the total population have received shots.
The government’s Covid panel chaired by the prime minister is still considering enacting further measures to curb the outbreak. People have been advised against traveling outside of provinces on the highest-risk list in an effort to contain the spread. The new provinces added are Chachoengsao, Chonburi and Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya.
Restrictions will come into effect from July 20 and will last 14 days until at least August 2, according to a Royal Gazette announcement on Sunday. A ban on gatherings of more than five people also remains in place, and any violations would be punished with two years in prison, a 40,000 baht ($1,200) fine or both.
A prolonged outbreak, the speed of vaccinations and the ability to procure more shots will affect Thailand’s economic growth this year. The Bank of Thailand and the World Bank have warned that they may have to revise down their current forecasts of 1.8% and 2.2% growth this year, respectively.