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Thailand imposes state of emergency to control coronavirus

BANGKOK – Thailand's government approved on Tuesday a one-month state of emergency allowing it to impose stricter measures to control the coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in the Southeast Asian country.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his Cabinet decided that the state of emergency will take effect Thursday.

The move gives the government additional powers to implement curfews, censor the media, disperse gatherings and deploy the military for enforcement. Details about what exact measures will be imposed are to be released later.

In a brief televised address, Prayuth assured the country that he is not instituting a lockdown yet. He said initial measures would focus on reducing transmission of the coronavirus in different areas.

"Some will involve requiring cooperation from the public, others will be orders," he said, explaining that a decision on whether to impose stricter measures such as a lockdown depends on whether people cooperate.

Prayuth urged the public to remain calm and warned against improper use of social media and hoarding, saying enforcement would now be stricter.

He also advised people to stay where they are and not to travel to rural areas, where many workers in the cities have their permanent homes and families.

He said screening and quarantine measures will be applied to those who do travel, and announced that the government is preparing isolation centers, field hospitals and additional medical supplies.

Thewan Liptapanlop, a minister from the Prime Minister's Office, said the Cabinet meeting did not discuss imposing a curfew, and government spokeswoman Naruemon Pinyosinwat said there was no discussion of confining uninfected people to their homes.

Thailand confirmed 106 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, bringing its reported total to 827. The new cases include four medical staff. Three more deaths were reported, raising the country's total to four.

Prayuth's government has been criticized for failing to take strong action to fight the coronavirus as daily increases in cases jumped from single digits in February to hundreds during the past week.

Last week, the prime minister shut down all schools, postponed a major three-day holiday and allowed provincial governors to close any gathering spaces.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said Tuesday's Cabinet meeting also approved financial aid to help businesses and people affected by restrictions to combat the coronavirus. Funds were earlier allocated for the banking sector.

The new measures will include monthly allowances of 5,000 baht ($153) for three months for workers not covered by the social security system, and 10 billion baht ($305 million) for small and medium enterprises, especially tourism-related businesses.

"The government's measures will inevitably affect to the economy in the short term, but we have to choose the life of the people first," Somkid said. “If we can stop the virus in the near future, economic recovery is not that difficult.

“However,if the outbreak goes on for the whole year, recovery will be near impossible,” he said. "Therefore, Thai people should cooperate and stay at home. If you can do that, we will be able to see the recovery at the end of this year.”

Somkid said the next financial aid package will target the agriculture sector.