Despite the government’s March 17 announcement of its plans to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, Doctor Rewat Wisutwet, former Director General of the Department of Medical Services, said more must be done. Most importantly, the government must prove that their policies are effective, in order to assure safety and prevent mass panic.
What must be done?
We had a chance to tackle this early on, but we never did. Actually, we just started with these rules. But there are more things that the government could do.
For example, to reduce mass panic, the government needs to communicate to the people with transparency. Report the news and the situations clearly. Of course, this could be a double-edge sword. The way to communicate needs to be supportive, to reassure trust and confidence. If you ask me where the panic is from, it’s because people don’t have any confidence in the government.
There also needs to be price control for all related products. I’m not talking about just alcohol gel or masks, but food too, now that people are stocking up. There should be free alcohol gel and face masks for everyone. Furthermore, instead of medically treating someone as a “suspect case,” treat the person as if he or she already has the virus.
We should also ban all flights from high-risk countries, whichThailand doesn’t have the courage to do.
How long is COVID-19 going to be with us?
I can’t answer that exactly, but roughly, I think no less than three to six months. There’s a chance there will be “global participation” to help stop this virus. It has been ages since we have seen the world coming together to help stop a virus. As a doctor, I think there’s a big possibility that if the world comes together, we could stop it.
We could learn from China, South Korea or Japan where they are successfully controlling the virus. How do we know? Their numbers have gone down drastically. Look at China, they only have 13 new cases in a day, compared to how many cases they had before this.
Looking at Italy, when they first got it, they probably underestimated the virus. They probably didn’t think it was going to be this bad, so they weren’t strict about it. Now that they are applying strict rules, you will see the results, soon.
Do you think COVID-19 will turn out to be like seasonal flu?
Then how come we need so many restrictions?
Because at the moment, the virus is very new and COVID-19 is a stranger in the medical field. The way this “stranger” behaves is never seen before. That’s why it’s very difficult to control the early phase of the outbreak. We don’t know this stranger or how it behaves. SARS and MARS didn’t behave like this.
What can we do as individuals?
Even though there isn’t a lock down in Bangkok, use your common sense to avoid contact with people. The most important thing is to wash your hands. The government must force people who sneeze, cough, or have a fever to wear masks. It’s more effective than forcing thousands of people to wear masks to protect themselves from one sick person.
Offices need to start using technology and start using video conferences. Enforce the rules for buildings and public spaces to keep clean and disinfected. Free check-up for everyone who has similar symptoms to a cold.
How serious is our situation right now?
I think the government is finally starting to understand the seriousness of this situation, as seen by their announcement. It’s a good sign. It will help slow down the number of confirmed cases. But that’s not enough. They need to reassure society by proving that their rules work.