Omicron: Thai government reprimands newspaper for headline saying it is ‘hunting for Africans'

A woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg, on Wednesday (AP)

A major Thai newspaper has become the target of a public rebuke by the country’s Covid-19 task force agency for its “poor choice” of words in a headline about the omicron variant.

The Bangkok Post on Thursday tweeted a picture of its print edition’s front page with the main headline reading: “Govt hunts for African visitors”.

It comes after the new variant of coronavirus, omicron, was first reported by South Africa on 25 November. Thailand’s health authorities on Wednesday said they were tracking down around 783 travellers who have arrived in Thailand from various southern African countries since 15 November amid fears over the heavily mutated SARS.CoV.2 variant.

In a press conference on Friday, a spokeswoman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) criticised the newspaper and said the headline does not reflect the government’s policy or approach.

“A particular newspaper ran an article yesterday that mentioned that the government is, and I quote, “hunting for African visitors,” unquote, in Thailand,” the spokeswoman said without naming the newspaper directly.

“Let me state clearly and unequivocally that this headline does not in any way reflect the government’s policy and/or approach, nor does it categorise any of the procedures the government has put in place thus far.

“In fact it was a very poor choice of words and we hope the editors will take good note of the negative feedback it has already elicited,” she said.

The paper’s website has changed the headline to “Govt searches for African visitors” but the pictures of the newspaper’s edition with controversial headlines were widely circulated on Twitter.

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Twitter users called out the newspaper for “racism” over the headline, saying it was “inappropriate”.

Bangkok Post showcasing Virulent Racism with some distinguishing Thai characteristics and flavors,” a Twitter user with the name Dze Hoi said.

Author and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall said the front page was a “surreal calamity” and called it a “new low for this once respected newspaper”.

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Infections linked to the omicron variant have now emerged in Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and Europe and have reached seven of the nine provinces of South Africa, despite new, strict travel restrictions being introduced in many countries.

The Bangkok Post has yet to issue any formal clarification over the matter.

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