[Correction] – According to our source, the hotel being used for quarantine is Elegant Airport Hotel, not the Novotel.
In times of crisis, people’s trust in the government is crucial. But trust is the one thing that has been missing in this government, since it won the 2019 national election.
On Friday night, April 3, videos and photos were circulated, showing 158 Thais at Suvarnabhumi Airport refusing the 14-day state quarantine. The decision to quarantine inbounding passengers followed the April 2 announcement from the COVID-19 Crisis Response Center (CRC).
The wording used in the announcement was “to slow down” inbounding traffic to prevent further spreading of COVID-19 into the kingdom. According to the Thai Constitution, it is illegal to prevent Thai nationals from entering our own country.
Some of the passengers later posted online that if they had known about the 14-day quarantine, they would’ve felt much safer to stay back overseas and not fly home
Chaos at the airport
Before boarding the planes from their original locations, all 158 Thai nationals had proper documentation as required by Thai authorities, a doctor certificate proving that they have tested negative for COVID-19 and an embassy certificate to verify the former.
The “slow down” announcement came when many of them were already in the sky, coming home from as far as the United States.
After landing, chaos erupted at the airport, with most passengers refusing to submit to the 14-day quarantine at Sattahip Naval Base in Chonburi Province. When news reports filtered out, accusing many of the passengers of “fleeing” from the airport and “escaping” from the authorities, social media erupted in anger.
The following morning on Saturday April 4, in violation of the Personal Data Privacy Act 2019, a full list of all passenger names, flight information and addresses was leaked to the media. Immediately, a social media witch hunt began against the passengers.
Here’s what really happened.
Later on the same day, a video clip was circulated showing that passengers were allowed to return home by an army general. But the situation was suspicious, as the general insisted for the passengers to keep things quiet and that the permission to let them go home came from a “poo-yai” (a person of senior authority), but that the poo-yai is not “that senior,” so it’s better to keep things quiet.
Following the incident and social media outrage, the government, through the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), ordered all airlines to stop flying into the kingdom for three days until April 7, literally one second past midnight.
Social media photos have since shown more than 50 Thais stuck at airport terminals around the world, like Tom Hanks in the 2004 film, The Terminal.
Chaos at the quarantine
Earlier on Friday April 3, a flight from Amsterdam arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport. A Thai passenger from the flight, who goes by the name of Siam, shared this story via social media. You may read it in full in the embedded link, but the main points are these:
They had to wait for five hours before being moved to a fire station within the airport.
The officials originally told them that relatives may come to pick them up.
For those who live in the provinces, buses will take them home.
They were told to board buses heading for an undisclosed destination.
Only later on the buses were they told they will be quarantined at Sattahip Naval Base.
Along the way, they were not given food and were told not to buy food at a gas stop.
At the naval base, they were designated to share rooms between three persons.
When asked if two people can stay in one room, the reply was “no way.”
After the passengers got together to protest, the authorities gave in. The passengers were put back onto the bus for Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport, which admittedly provides more comfortable accommodation.
The entire ordeal lasted 20 hours.
Siam wrote that his group was “[treated] like criminals rather than Thai citizens who they [the officials] are supposed to be serving and protecting.”
Give credit where it is due
The government is trying to ensure the safety of the country and its people. But clearly, there’s a disconnection between what is decided at the highest level and how the decision is to be carried out by those working at the frontline.
All 158 passengers have now reported back to the authorities for the 14-day quarantine, showing that they are willing to be responsible, if the government would communicate clearly and treat them accordingly.
If there’s any lesson to learn here, it is the need for clear communication and effective implementation of measures. As well, social media may also chill out a bit and wait to see the full story, before getting full-blown triggered.