BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha defended his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis on the second day of a no-confidence debate, while blaming the pandemic for slow economic growth.
Speaking in parliament on Wednesday (Sep 1), Gen Prayut emphasised that Thailand is not the only country in the world that has been hit by the pandemic and that the global health crisis has dealt a heavy blow to its tourism sector, which has long been the country’s main source of income.
“Tourism was our hero when it came to the economy. In 2019, it generated 20 per cent of the GDP and created 8.3 million jobs. Nearly 40 million international travellers visited Thailand then,” Gen Prayut noted.
“But since COVID-19 emerged, it has badly affected Thailand’s tourism (sector), causing the number of tourists to drop to 6.7 million in 2020. The number is expected to go below 1 million in 2021 as a result of various measures to control the spread of COVID-19 both locally and internationally,” he added.
The prime minister’s remarks came after criticisms from opposition lawmakers against his administration and its handling of the pandemic in a four-day no-confidence debate that began on Tuesday. The no-confidence motion was tabled by the opposition bloc.
The debate targets the prime minister and five members of his cabinet, including Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, Labour Minister Suchat Chomklin, Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn as well as Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Chalermchai Sri-on. It is scheduled to end on Friday before voting by the Lower House on Saturday.
Gen Prayut’s coalition government has come under pressure as the COVID-19 situation in the country remains severe with soaring infections and casualties amid controversies surrounding vaccine procurement.
On Wednesday, the Disease Control Department of the Public Health Ministry reported 14,802 new infections and 252 deaths. Thailand has recorded more than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases since last year and 11,841 patients have died.
His administration has also been criticised for disease control measures, various restrictions and impacts on local businesses.
Several provinces in high-risk areas, including Bangkok, have been placed on lockdown since Jul 12, with a curfew imposed between 9pm and 4am. For more than seven weeks, various business venues such as department stores and malls had to remain closed while restaurants and cafes had to cease their dining-in services.
Some of the lockdown measures were eased on Wednesday. Dining-in is now permitted with limited seating and salons and barbers can resume their services. Still, some businesses such as fitness centres are yet to reopen.
The prime minister admitted in parliament on Wednesday that Thailand’s economy could face a slow recovery, noting the tourism sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus. He said the pandemic is unprecedented and maintained that his government is doing its best to tackle it with various measures.
“Things could be slow but it’s not easy to work systematically and correctly when it comes to the expenditure of different budgets. The impact is far-reaching. Public health measures have all come from suggestions. They came from dozens of doctors, some 100 of them even, before becoming government measures,” Gen Prayut told lawmakers.
“The government puts public health before the economy. We solve all the problems, with a strong focus on public health,” he added.