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Politics

Thailand to 'fully reopen in 120 days,' prime minister promises

Prayuth claims sufficient vaccines in pipeline but country must 'live with some risk'

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha tells the kingdom that "we cannot wait for a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with two shots."   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced Thailand will "fully reopen within 120 days" during a televised address on Wednesday evening.

Prayuth said the unilateral decision had been taken on the basis of "signed reservation and supply contracts for 105.5 million [COVID-19 vaccine] doses to be delivered this year ... putting us ahead of our target for vaccine supplies."

The vaccines, he said, will be administered at the rate of 10 million doses per month from July and supplied by Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, as well as Astra-Zeneca, Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Only limited supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and two Chinese vaccines have been available in Thailand.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is being produced in Thailand by Siam Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company wholly owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn. It has no previous experience of vaccine production.

The Thai-made vaccine debuted earlier this month, but there have been concerns about supplies after mass inoculations scheduled in Bangkok were pushed back indefinitely. There have also been reports of delayed shipments of the vaccine to Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Prayuth said the decision to reopen in October will only be revisited if "a truly serious situation develops or seems likely to develop, and we will look at those situations on a case-by-case basis."

"We cannot wait for a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with two shots to open the country or for when the world is free of the virus," he said. "We must be ready to live with some risk and just try to keep it at a manageable level, and let people go back to being able to earn a living. That is the policy that I have set."

After one of the most successful national programs to keep COVID-19 at bay in 2020, Thailand has been hit by a resurgence of the virus this year, leading to heavy criticism of the government for its failure to order vaccines to ensure a steady rollout.

Last year's control measures shuttered the tourism industry, which in 2019 brought in nearly 40 million visitors and generated almost a fifth of the country's gross domestic product. As many as 7 million people have fallen into unemployment.

Prayuth, a retired general who first seized power in a coup in 2014 when he was army chief but now heads an elected cabinet, has been criticized for his authoritarian approach to politics. As confirmed COVID-19 cases rose, he recently further consolidated power into his hands.

"It has now been just over a month since we returned to a consolidated management of the COVID crisis, which has enabled me to instruct certain actions directly," he said in his address. "This is the way we worked when the COVID-19 pandemic started last year."

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