It sure is exciting that Thailand-born K-pop megastar Lisa of Blackpink, or Lalisa Manobal, has agreed to perform for a New Year countdown event in Phuket.

That the young performer will likely share the stage with the world-renowned opera singer Andrea Bocelli should give some cheer to the country deadened by the Covid-19 pandemic for two years.

But it is debatable whether the 100 million baht to pay for the stars to shine their light for 45 minutes, hopefully to draw international eyes to our shores, will be worth it.

Some people will say the budget could be better spent on improving tourist destinations and facilities, which might impress tourists and get them to return in the long run more effectively than glitzy shows and fleeting star power.

Others will counter that the stage performances, though short-lived, are the quickest, surest and most spectacular way to shout out to the world that Thailand is back on track, that we are ready to welcome tourists and do business.

Amid the planned performances and fanfare, however, the fundamental issue should not be forgotten.

What does the government have planned in case another wave of Covid-19 flares up?

Nothing is wrong with reopening the country, keeping people’s hopes up or investing large amounts to whip up a “fantasy” of a Covid-19 free and lively Thailand.

It would be wrong, however, if the reopening is done without proper planning, especially for people in the country who would have to bear the brunt of the social and economic impacts if another wave of the disease returns.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha justified his reopening plan, welcoming travellers from 46 low-risk country without quarantine even though less than 40% of people in the country have been fully vaccinated, by saying Thailand will miss out on opportunities to benefit from the high tourist season if we wait for everything to be “perfect”.

He said if we don’t open up now, tourists may choose to visit other countries.

Essentially, the PM knew that expediting the process of reopening carries a risk that the number of people infected with Covid-19 will increase. It is a risk we have to accept, he said.

The implication is the only thing we can do to move forward is to mitigate any negative impacts that may occur along the way.

But what are those mitigation measures?

It is not good enough for the PM to simply say we have to learn to live with Covid-19.

His suggestion that the key to reducing the risk of another wave is for people to keep their guard up, wear masks, wash their hands and maintain social distancing is just lame considering how high the stakes for the country are.

If the PM is betting his future on the reopening, he must have a precise plan in place to assure Thais that the horrific scenes from a few months ago where people had to wait for days to get treated and sick people were left to die before gaining access to medical treatment will not be repeated.

There must be no more waiting on Covid-19 hotlines. People who are at risk must have quick, reliable and affordable access to screening. Medical resources must be sufficient to take care of the infected without them having to lie pathetically around on corridors or outside a hospital.

The proof of the government’s responsibility is in there. It’s not just the promise of grandiose performances to mark the reopening, the pleas for understanding or the empty excuse that the risks are acceptable.

Who will have to accept those risks? Ordinary Thai people. And it is the government’s duty to set the bar and make a commitment that it has done everything to curb those risks.

On top of ramping up inoculations, the government must show that it has invested in necessary medical facilities, equipment and personnel in preparation for the worst-case scenario.

It has to promise the Thai public they will be well taken care of should they become infected. It has to show that it is going about the reopening in a data-driven, logical manner, not just because of a desperate need to gain revenue or to please certain groups of people.

The government must also make it clear that if the situation demands, it will make painful decisions to protect the public’s health.

It must make a convincing case that people’s wellbeing lies at the heart of its reopening plan, that we are not just potential collateral damage from anybody’s plan to return to normalcy.

Most of all, if the PM is betting the health of the people in the country on his grand reopening plan, he must take responsibility for it as well.

What will PM Gen Prayut do if his reopening plan goes wrong?

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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