Thai Health Minister Apologizes for Racial Slur Against White People in Coronavirus Rant

Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul poses during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Bangkok on April 3, 2019. - A Thai party that wants to let households grow marijuana is in demand after a hard-fought election, and its leader said April 3 that their policies must be backed by groups …
ROMEO GACAD/AFP via Getty Images

Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul apologized on Friday for using a racial slur to demand that white tourists be expelled from the country over their refusal to wear face masks to avoid contracting coronavirus.

Speaking to the media at a train station in Bangkok where had been handing out masks to the public, Charnvirakul used the term “farang,” a generic and sometimes offensive term to describe Caucasians visiting Thailand, over their apparent refusal to wear face masks despite the risk of the coronavirus.

“These fucking farangs. These farang tourists. The embassies should be notified and the public should be informed, too. We are giving away the masks, but they refused to take them,” he complained. “They need to be kicked out of Thailand. The Chinese, Asian people, they all take the masks. But those Europeans … how frustrating.”

Charnvirakul later took to social media to issue an apology but reiterated his belief that white people were showing “disgust” at Thais. “I apologize that today I kinda ‘lost myself’ to some Europeans who showed disgust at Thais who wear masks and refused to cooperate to wear the masks,” he wrote on Facebook.

Tourism comprises around one-fifth of Thailand’s economy and therefore a vital source of income. Visitors from China remain its largest market, with over ten million Chinese tourists visiting the country last year alone. Yet since the coronavirus outbreak, visitors from China have fallen by 80 percent, prompting a significant drop in revenue and therefore placing greater importance on tourism from Europe, North America, and other parts of the world.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) office in Thailand recently tweeted a graphic stating that masks were “not needed for the general public who do not have respiratory symptoms,” calling into question the reasoning behind Charnvirakul’s outburst.

Masks are recommended for those suffering from or exposed to people with respiratory symptoms. To those not required to wear a mask, WHO urges people to regularly wash their hands, maintain high standards of hygiene, and avoid touching their faces. However, many people have taken to wearing masks in public places such as busy streets, public transport, and shopping centers to minimize the risk of contagion.

Thai health authorities have so far recorded at least 25 cases of the coronavirus, which was recently declared an international health emergency by WHO. Nine of those patients have made a full recovery. As of Friday afternoon, there were approximately 31,500 cases confirmed around the world, over 99.9 percent of which are in mainland China. At least 638 people have died, while a further 1,568 have made a full recovery.

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