CCSA revamp no cure

After nearly two years in existence, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) is eyeing a new role in combating the pandemic.

The centre meets today to discuss changes to itself as the emergency decree is to be revoked now that the revised Disease Control Act, being vetted by the Council of State, is about to take effect.

The CCSA, headed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, was formed under the emergency decree that gives the premier absolute powers in what is known as a "single command" that allows him to bypass certain regulations and laws in dealing with the pandemic.

At that time, the decree was deemed inevitable as the old disease control law was seen as not comprehensive enough. But the decree also has limitations. In an interview with local media, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam conceded the lengthy use of the draconian decree makes those involved "uncomfortable".

He also noted the general state of emergency which was initially invoked in 2005 doesn't exactly fit the public health emergency that faces the country now.

Yet Mr Wissanu ruled out dissolution of the CCSA as widely speculated. Instead, he mulled setting up a new body -- even larger than the CCSA -- without the emergency decree. While details remain unknown, the revised law means the Public Health Ministry will take the lead in containing the virus, instead of the CCSA which will be upgraded.

The immediate question emerges: Is such a structure redundant?

The formation of a new, bigger centre shows to a certain extent the reluctance of the government, in particular the prime minister, to hand over power to the Public Health Ministry and Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul who faces a crisis of public confidence following the pandemic's mishandling.

But the reincarnation of the CCSA, like the emergency decree, could be a waste. Looking back, Gen Prayut, despite his absolute power as CCSA head, could not do much to prevent waves of outbreaks like the Thong Lor cluster in April which saw some entertainment places breach the anti-coronavirus regulations, resulting in massive transmissions.

Infection cases surpassed one million in a five-month period while the death toll rose sharply. There are allegations the government also uses the decree to curb the pro-democracy movement, rather than the outbreak.

In fact, it's evident the decree and the prime minister can do little, if anything, about the critical problems that make the pandemic worse: a dereliction of duty and graft by unscrupulous authorities, like the migrant labour smuggling network, which is at the core of the cluster infection problems.

An inefficient bureaucratic system, lack of integration among state agencies that cause delays in home-to-hospital transfers, too few active case findings and the wrong vaccine strategy have also been blamed for avoidable deaths. In short, the pandemic has shed light on problems that have plagued the country for a long time.

Even if the new structure is eventually set up, those problems will not go away, unless the government and the prime minister recognise them. What is needed a revamp of the system, not a band-aid solution.

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