Bangkok Post

Anutin must get a grip in battle against the virus

- Ploenpote Atthakor Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Despite not having contracted the Covid-19 virus, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirak­ul finds himself in deep trouble. His harsh words targeting doctors who have been infected with the virus have not only upset those in the health service but the public at large. Moreover, his apologies have done little to help as a campaign for his dismissal is gaining steam.

It’s true that one senior doctor erred, breached social distancing, and later tested positive for the coronaviru­s. This affected some 20 other people who were in close contact with him. However, Mr Anutin should still have held his tongue.

“As medical officials, they should have protected themselves and set a good example, but they didn’t,” he raged. Worse, the minister was not even aware of confirmed reports that at least nine medical officials got the virus while tending to infected patients.

It’s not a surprise that, despite the one bad apple, the public is still strongly siding with the doctors. People have been touched with the way these health personnel are sacrificin­g themselves in the fight against the virus which has wreaked havoc globally.

We know very well that Mr Anutin, though a bit of a demagogue by nature, is not good with “speech”, by which I mean, the right speech in accordance with the Lord Buddha’s teachings.

During a recent trip to Chiang Mai, Mr Anutin took the opportunit­y to blast Western tourists for not wearing face masks and blamed them for the spread of Covid-19. His message, that Westerners fled the virus at home and brought it to Thailand, was racist and also a faux pas for political officehold­ers.

Don’t forget that Mr Anutin’s vulgaritie­s came at the time when a group of doctors and health personnel were infected after caring for Covid-19 patients. A hospital in Yala’s Bannang Sata district was even closed down because of cluster infections. Yet, most people were well aware of the fact that doctors and their colleagues who are at the forefront of the fight against the virus are not well equipped and this prompted people in Yala to launch a donation campaign.

If Mr Anutin is trying to tackle the problem, the public is not convinced. There have been other shortcomin­gs from the minister too.

Just take a look at the face mask shortage saga for which Mr Anutin has been unable to find a solution.

Health officials have been appealing over insufficie­nt supply amid reports that there have been efforts to silence them. Yet, there have also been are campaigns over the past weeks urging people to donate face masks to health officials. During these times, what did Mr Anutin do in his capacity to avert the crisis?

Moreover, it’s a well-known fact that if Bangkok-based hospitals, some of the country’s top establishm­ents, are facing such severe shortages, this means that things must be even worse for health establishm­ents in the provinces, especially the remote ones.

A limited number of virus test kits mean we cannot track those at risk with the virus quickly enough. Early detection is necessary if we want to get the country out of this crisis. It’s possible, as South Korea has proven.

It’s unbelievab­le there is a limited supply of protective suits — a white outfit that looks like the ones donned by astronauts — which are necessary in an outbreak situation.

Mainstream media outlets and social media have reported that doctors are working without protection, a condition which places them under high risk of infection, which has further fuelled public anger.

It’s not uncommon to see health personnel share their plight on social media, which the minister has failed to acknowledg­e.

It is a pity that while the country spends a great deal on military hardware, our health system depends so much on charity and donations. Look at the efforts of the wellknown musical artist who has to run time and again to raise funds for our health system to ensure that hospitals get medical supplies. Isn’t that sad?

If anything, the Covid-19 crisis has revealed the poor conditions that Thai health personnel have been facing for so long. It’s an irony for a country which boasts of being the medical hub of the region.

Is it too late for Mr Anutin to secure his ministeria­l position? Maybe not. In fact, this could be a golden chance for Mr Anutin to make a turnaround. I believe the public may forgive him if he mends his ways in time.

He must not drag his feet further but provide all the support that medical personnel need during this difficult time without depending on public donations. Mr Anutin is obliged to fight for state budget for medical protective gear and other necessitie­s. Our doctors deserve nothing less.

On top of that, it’s time the minister follows this motto: work more and talk less.

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