Picture Krabi sunset credit Andreas M on Unsplash
Concerns are increasing in Thailand that the latest Covid-19 outbreak could result in the largest cluster of cases in the country during the pandemic and derail the tourist industry reopening plans.
The new outbreak is believed to have originated in bars in Bangkok but has since spread to around 20 provinces.
A further 405 new cases of Covid-19 were reported today up from 334 yesterday. Thailand has now broken through the 30,000 barrier of Covid cases.
Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year and is a national holiday. This year celebrations are due to take place from 12th to 15th April.
Traditionally millions of Thai’s will travel for holidays or to visit relatives over the Songkran period. Pattaya has reported 60% occupancy in hotels for the holiday.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted that there would not be a lockdown for Songkran this year after celebrations last year were cancelled.
“Whatever will be, will be. The reason is it’s a matter that involves a huge number of people. The government will have to try and cope with that later.”
“Of course we could order a new lockdown and make everyone stay at home. But the question is will anyone be happy with that?”Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thai Prime Minister
He added that all provinces have their own measures in place and should, where necessary take appropriate precautions.
Buri Ram and Bung Kan provinces have already issued orders that anyone arriving from Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan and Nakhon Pathom must undergo a self-quarantine.
UK Variant Poses Threat
A Thai expert on the Covid-19 virus has said that the fast-spreading British variant of Covid-19 is at the heart of the latest outbreak.
“We don’t know how it could have been found here given that we have the state quarantine system. If possible, there should not be any travel or movement right now. If that’s not possible, it is highly necessary to have strict measures to control the disease.”
“Without sufficient intervention taken to curb these high-risk activities (during Songkran), the number of infections could even reach thousands per day.”Yong Poovorawan, Head of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University
He raised concerns that people visiting relatives, especially the elderly, would risk not just increased infections, but also increased fatalities. He said that the older the people infected with the British variant are, the higher the risk of them developing severe symptoms.
He urged Songkran festivities to be restricted and for people not to travel during the holiday.
Entertainment Venues Closed
The Thai government has ordered that all entertainment places are closed in 41 provinces to help curb the spread of the Covid virus. The closure is due to start on Friday.
Discussions had taken place to impose restrictions throughout Thailand but it was decided that a “target therapy” approach was sufficient. The provinces affected are those with new infections or were at risk due to being a gateway or passage for travellers.
The 41 provinces include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chon Buri (Pattaya), Phuket, Prachuap Khiri Khan (Hua Hin), Surat Thani (Koh Samui) and Udon Thani.
Phuket has been leading the way in plans to relax restrictions for tourists. Quarantine-free travel is planned from 1st July for vaccinated travellers.
The island province however has now seen further Covid-19 cases, 10 in total.
There are fears that a widespread outbreak will slow down their ability to vaccinate significant numbers of the local population. A successful inoculation programme is key to the end of quarantine.
Three bars, Café Del Mar Phuket, Illuzion pub and Shelter pub, have been linked with the outbreak and have been ordered to close immediately.
There have so far been 323,989 Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in Thailand to 274,354, some have already received their second dose.
Calls have been made from experts to increase the vaccination programme however amid concerns that the slow progress will mean ongoing significant economic and health issues in the country.
“If Thailand can administer 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines per day, it will take about three years to achieve effective herd immunity against the pandemic, while if up to 300,000 doses are given a day, it will take only a year to achieve that goal.”Yong Poovorawan, Head of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University
Tourism chiefs have also continued to push for increased vaccinations especially in tourism areas and among tourism workers.
We cannot stop operations every time a new cluster causes the government to impose strict restrictions. The most urgent need right now is a pro-active strategy for the country’s public inoculation.”Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, President of the Thai Hotels Association
Uncertainty over travel has been a major problem affecting the travel industry as consumers do not want to risk travel plans and money on trips that may be impacted by ever-changing restrictions and closures.
Source: Bangkok Post
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