Rayong residents and business owners are irate over the government’s mishandling of a group of Egyptian airmen who violated rules governing their short-term entry into Thailand and possibly exposed hundreds to the coronavirus.
An air of anger and sadness enveloped the large crowd that assembled outside the Passione Shopping Destination to take free Covid-19 tests on Tuesday with many expressing frustrations over how, after months of sacrifice, could all their efforts against the Covid-19 outbreak could prove for naught.
“Everything we worked for is back to square one,” said one man whose son owns a hospitality-industry business nearby. “We were just beginning to get local tourists back and this happens. My son was bringing visitors from all around Thailand to spend a few days in Rayong and their money, but now he says his business is suffering again. After months of nothing, it’s back to nothing.”
Hotels across the province reported mass cancellations as public panic fed off of the government’s overreaction to the health scare that realistically only exposed nine people to the virus – seven hotel employees and two at the U-Tapao-Rayong-Pattaya Airport.
The Public Health Ministry, however, advised 394 people who checked into the two shopping malls the Egyptians visited – Laemthong and Central Plaza – to self-isolate for 14 days and take advantage of the free coronavirus tests offered during the next two weeks outside Passione.
The provincial and central government’s kneejerk reaction to the incident would have been laughable had it not had such dire economic consequences for Rayong residents.
Monday night two floors at the D’Varee Diva Central hotel where the group of 31 airmen stayed were closed but, by morning, the entire hotel was shuttered for two weeks and its staff put into quarantine. Fumigation trucks blasted disinfectant on city streets. All of the province’s 127 schools and daycare centers were closed and the Cabinet transferred the province’s governments despite protests that he had nothing to do with the incident.
The fault lays at the feet of the Royal Thai Air Force, which approved their entry and didn’t oversee the airmen, and the Public Health Ministry, which allowed them to fly out before their test results had come back. Ironically, the lapses occurred the same day as a high-profile American military delegation was being fawned over by the military in Bangkok.
“The powers that be were so proud to show off how they checked the U.S. general for Covid-19 and then they just let these people who are in the highest-risk bracket walk around town spreading the virus,” said another angry resident.
The Egyptians had stopped over in Thailand on the way to a July 9 defense summit in Chengdu, China and had been allowed to enter Thailand without submitting to a 14-day quarantine because they were government officers approved by the air force.
But not only did they leave the hotel, they also refused to be virus-tested initially. It took the intervention of police and Egyptian embassy officials to make them comply.
The tests were done on July 10, but the results were deemed “problematic” and were redone on July 11. But results didn’t come back until the next day. By that time, the group and its one infected, but asymptomatic, member, had already left for Cairo.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha today called both incidents “unnecessary” and apologized to the many inconvenienced by the mess. He said all the rules and procedures pertaining the non-quarantine entries are now being reviewed.
Immediate changes, however, will see the Egyptian Air Force banned temporarily from Thailand following the military delegation’s violation of its entry conditions. Eight flights planned between July 17 and 29 have been scrapped.
The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration also announced Tuesday that all short-term visitors who had been allowed since July 1 to skip quarantine – guests invited by the government and businesspeople on stays of five days or less – would be halted temporarily while the CCSA revises its procedures and strengthens enforcement mechanisms.