Bangkok Post

Stadium debacle leaves bad taste

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It’s nearly a month since the army-owned Lumpinee boxing stadium emerged as the epicentre of the country’s coranaviru­s epidemic. Yet there are still no apologies from the army or army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompon­g. More than a few visitors to the stadium on the night of March 6 became virus super spreaders. The cluster infection effectivel­y plunged the country into the Covid-19 crisis. As of yesterday, accumulate­d infection cases were put at 1,245 with six deaths. Another 10 new cases were found to be connected to the stadium on the night of March 6. More are bound to be detected.

Another mass infection involved a pub in the Thong Lor area and a group of Muslim people who attended a religious event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The stadium infection contribute­d to the virus’s spread to other provinces and it is evident that some boxing fans defied the stay-at-home order and travelled out of Bangkok.

It’s reported that patients are scattered in Bangkok, Ubon Ratchathan­i, Samut Prakan, Nonthaburi, Lop Buri, Pathum Thani, Surat Thani, Surin and Kanchanabu­ri.

Now the disease has spread to over 50 provinces with no signs of it being curbed in the near future. In a worst-case scenario, infections could surpass 25,000 by April 15.

There are few signs the government will be able to bring the epidemic under control. Last week, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared a state of emergency as Bangkok and several other provinces implemente­d a partial lockdown that dealt a heavy blow to the country’s economy with at least three million people made jobless overnight.

The mass infection at Lumpinee stadium came to light on March 13 as actor/singer Matthew Deane Chanthavan­ij, the MC of the boxing match, broke the news about him falling victim to the virus on his Instagram, implying the possibilit­y the stadium might have been a virus breeding ground.

His revelation shocked the public and state authoritie­s threatened to sue him him if he was not really infected. His claims of having the virus, they said, would cause public panic. But Mr Deane did get Covid-19 and received treatment, as did his wife, actress Lydia Sarunrat.

Since then, more cases have come to light which are connected to the boxing event. Among them is that of Maj Gen Rachit Arunrangsi, chief of the Army’s Welfare Department, who oversees Lumpinee stadium. His Covid-19 infection was confirmed on March 15.

A group of big-wigs, including Senator Surasak Kanchanara­t and Deputy Communicat­ion Minister Thaworn Senniam who defied the government’s self-isolation order, made an appearance at the stadium that night and were also tested.

On March 20, health authoritie­s said they had traced 70 stadium cases. More importantl­y, they put the number of at-risk in connection with the boxing match at 500, urging them to see doctors and get tested.

It’s highly likely that only a few have complied for fear of social stigma, which makes matters worse.

As they waited until the last minute, they might have spread the disease to those around them. This makes it more difficult for health authoritie­s to contain the contagion.

The stadium debacle poses a legitimate question about the severe negligence by the stadium’s management which has led to damage to the country’s health system.

The management arrogantly chose to ignore a prime ministeria­l order dated March 3 that asked all parties to avoid organising sporting events as they could exacerbate the spread of Covid-19.

According to local media reports, management claimed the stadium was regarded as “safe and hygienic” for such a big match and postponeme­nt was unnecessar­y.

There were pictures in the media of the stadium’s big cleanup and sanitisati­on which eventually proved useless.

Netizens’ frustratio­ns over the boxing match have escalated, asking why the army-run stadium was able to get an exemption from the PM’s order.

In response to netizens’ frustratio­n, Gen Apirat on March 27 moved the chief of army’s welfare department to an inactive post, pending a probe.

But the investigat­ion against Maj Gen Rachit is not enough.

At least, the army chief should offer his apologies for such a debacle, caused by his subordinat­es’ negligence.

With the country still making little progress in the fight against the virus, Gen Apirat, who is top of the army’s hierarchy, should consider showing more responsibi­lity by tendering his resignatio­n.

This would bring local ethical standards up to internatio­nal levels.

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