Thailand Says Pro-Democracy Protests Risk Spreading Coronavirus

Thailand’s military-backed government said pro-democracy protests risk spreading the coronavirus and asked people to avoid rallies.

People gathering in crowds could make it harder to control the spread of the disease known as Covid-19, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a briefing Saturday. Confirmed infections in Thailand have climbed by one to 42, the ministry said.

“Big crowds are now very risky,” Anutin said. “If someone in a crowd was infected, we’d have to track down many people. The numbers of patients could be more than we can handle. I don’t want to block your political will, but please think about society.”

Read More: Students Step Up Protests Against Military-Backed Thai Premier

Thousands of students have rallied in campuses across the country in the past week after the enforced breakup of Future Forward, a popular pro-democracy party. The party rattled Thailand’s ruling elites by attracting younger voters to a reformist agenda that included dismantling oligopolies and preventing coups in a country with a history of military takeovers.

Anutin asked the organizers of protests to postpone or cancel them, and instead find other ways to express their views.

“We’re fighting this disease, and so far we have done well to control the situation,” he said. Anutin is also a deputy prime minister in the ruling coalition that took office after a disputed general election last year.

Thailand’s stock market and tourism-reliant economy are reeling from travel curbs sparked by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, particularly a collapse in visitors from disease epicenter China.

Tourist arrivals so far in February haveslumped 40% to 45% from a year earlier, according to the central bank.

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