Disease law set for change

Teenagers are vaccinated against Covid-19 at Vachira Hospital in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The cabinet has approved a draft amendment to the 2015 Communicable Disease Act, seen as a new mechanism to replace the emergency decree in the country’s ongoing battle against Covid-19.

The state of emergency, declared under the emergency decree to facilitate the government’s outbreak containment efforts, is due to expire at the end of this month when the amended disease control law is expected to be enacted.

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), established under Section 7 of the emergency decree, will technically no longer exist if the state of emergency isn’t renewed at the end of this month.

However, in practice, the CCSA will continue to function, although it may have to be transformed into something else after the state of emergency is lifted, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said previously.

Speaking after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek, however, insisted the cabinet had yet to discuss the possibility of renewing the state of the emergency when it expires on Sept 30.

“When the new law is in place, a body even larger than the CCSA may be established if needed, so it doesn’t really matter if the CCSA is dissolved or not,” Mr Wissanu said in the same interview.

According to a cabinet source, the government is unlikely to begin enforcing the amended Communicable Disease Act by the end of this month as expected as it still needs to seek parliamentary approval first.

Ms Rachada also insisted that the approved draft amendment to the disease control law doesn’t grant amnesty to policymakers as feared by some observers.

“It is only aimed at better protecting healthcare workers and other parties who are assigned to work under the amended law and work honestly.

“These parties — including health volunteers, rescue workers and other workers handling Covid-19 patients — will be freed from liability if it is proved they work honestly,” she said.

The amendment is aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of disease control and accelerating attempts to contain a serious new outbreak, she said, adding that under the newly amended law, the management of public health emergencies will be separated from that of any other serious emergencies emerging or re-emerging.

“In case a serious outbreak erupts, the emergency decree will no longer be needed… The amended Communicable Disease Act will be invoked instead,” she said.

The amended law will also allow a new body to be established to direct the fight to contain a serious new outbreak, she said.

In another development, the Public Health Ministry said the number of new Covid-19 infections is gradually decreasing yet still hovering at around 10,000 cases per day, as the country begins lifting Covid-19 restrictions for the sake of reviving the economy.

Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, said Covid-19 is expected to become endemic sometime in the future when those who are infected with the virus will no longer become seriously ill and the number of new cases isn’t high.

Currently, Bangkok, for instance, still records between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases a day, he said. Even though there are still hundreds of hospital beds intended for Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms and thousands for ones with moderate symptoms, there is no room for complacency, he said.

Businesses allowed to resume normal operations may consider testing their employees weekly if they are at risk of contracting the virus at work, he said.

The Ministry of Higher Education Science Research and Innovation on Tuesday revealed that Thailand is now the second most vaccinated country in Asean against Covid-19, having (as of Sept 20) vaccinated about 43.8% of the entire population. Singapore has vaccinated 77.7% of its population.