The Thai PM has instructed the Navy to postpone the planned purchase of two Chinese submarines, saying the funds must be diverted to fight Covid-19.

The controversial 22.5 billion purchase was already postponed for a year last August. Kongcheep Tantrawanich from the Defence Ministry says the PM has ordered a further postponement given the extent of the Covid-19 crisis. The order comes just a day after the Royal Thai Navy vowed to proceed with the purchase.

According to the PM, the funds must be diverted to provide assistance for those struggling as a result of the financial devastation caused by the pandemic. With rising infections and deaths, the situation shows no sign of improving any time soon, with Kongcheep confirming the PM has asked for the decision to be explained to China. The purchase of the submarines was being facilitated by an agreement between both governments.

The plan has come in for severe criticism on social media and among politicians, including members of the opposition and the current administration. Thamanat Prompow from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party has strongly criticised the planned purchase at a time when the country is battling its worst wave of Covid-19 since the pandemic started. “Any budget spending must be considered carefully. The country is facing a pandemic crisis. It is like waging the Third World War. We want the Navy to delay the purchase.”