BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's health minister has provoked outrage
by demanding a warning to embassies and the deportation of all "those
damn Caucasian tourists" if they do not wear medical face masks, even
if they do not suffer from the coronavirus.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is not a doctor, shocked the
public when he broke medical protocol and pulled down his own mask, so
it dangled under his chin before angrily cursing Caucasian tourists on
February 7 at a busy public rail station in Bangkok.

He had offered -- with his bare, ungloved hands -- some unwrapped,
unsterilized medical face masks to wary random foreigners who walked

Mr. Anutin then unleashed a stream of verbal abuse during a photo
opportunity showcasing to the media how he dealt with the coronavirus.

"Those damn Caucasian tourists, that is something the embassies should
be notified of, and the public as well, that they are not wearing
medical face masks.

"We are handing them [medical face masks] out and they still refuse.
They need to be kicked out of Thailand!" he raged in Thai language to
journalists covering the event.

"That is something that the Thais have to help. If we have these kind
of people, we should kick them out of the country," Mr. Anutin said.

"Unbelievable that a high-level politician would encourage what
amounts to vigilantism against a race of people in this way,"
responded James Buchanan, a PhD. candidate researching Thai politics.

"Oh look our tourism industry is in trouble from this virus, let's
kick out more tourists," a Thai person wrote on Twitter.

As of February 9, Thailand confirmed 32 victims suffer from the
coronavirus. Most of them were Chinese, plus a few Thais.

No other foreigners were discovered to be infected, no one has died in
Thailand from the virus, and several patients were released from
hospitals, according to health officials.

After a firestorm of criticism and demands on social media that Mr.
Anutin resign because he was stirring up racism against white
tourists, he posted a Thai-language statement on his Facebook page
saying he lost his temper.

Mr. Anutin speaks English but did not immediately issue any statement
in English.

Some foreign tourists and expatriates expressed fear that Thailand may
become a place to avoid if Mr. Anutin's outburst is believed by other
Thai politicians and citizens who panic because of the virus.

The health minister's demand for people to wear medical face masks
even if they do not show symptoms of being infected, contradicts
advisories issued by the U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO).

Sufferers should wear medical face masks if they "have respiratory
symptoms: cough, difficulty breathing.

"NOT needed for general public who do not have respiratory symptoms," WHO said.

Mr. Anutin's demand comes amid a severe shortage of medical face masks
and hand sanitizers in Bangkok.

As a result, if tens of thousands of healthy tourists were suddenly
forced to buy medical face masks, shortages would worsen and Thais who
were infected -- and needed masks -- would find it difficult to
acquire them.

It would also be a disaster for the tourism industry to expel tens of
thousands of Caucasian tourists unable to immediately buy face masks
upon arrival or while enjoying Thailand's beaches and other venues.

For Mr. Anutin's bizarre threat to be effective, police would have to
arrange mass arrests of tourists, transport them to international
airports, and force them to pay for flights out.

Some travelers warned that Bangkok's two international airports were
already worsening the medical crisis by forcing all arriving
passengers to put their hands on glass scanners to record their
fingerprints, without hand sanitizers available next to the machines
to clean off possible germs deposited by countless previous

Army soldiers meanwhile were filmed using their bare hands to stuff
face masks into plastic envelopes for public distribution, while not
wearing gloves or medical face masks.