Today’s announcement from the Disease Control Department at the Ministry of Public Health is an about-face and raises questions about the government’s softly, step by step strategy. There have been calls to close off Thailand’s borders to Chinese tourists but a reported move yesterday by the government in the Philippines to take such a step has now been denied by the authorities there. Meanwhile, a 32-year-old Chinese tourist died on Tuesday under mysterious circumstances in Chiang Mai.

Thailand’s Department of Disease Control has warned that an outbreak of the Chinese coronavirus is ‘highly possible’ in tourist areas frequented by Chinese tourists following the discovery that a Japanese bus driver picked up the virus from a tour group from Wuhan.

Days after the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and the Public Health Minister assured the public that the virus threat is under control, comes a public health warning from a senior official at the Department of Disease Prevention revealing that an outbreak is highly possible in popular tourist locations frequented by Chinese tourists. Police in Mae Rim in Chiang Mai are investigating the death of 32-year-old Chinese tourist at a resort on Tuesday who died shortly after complaining of a high fever. Rescue services in disease prevention clothing removed the body of the woman.

Days after the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha on Monday night assured the Thai public that the coronavirus is 100% under control comes a health warning from the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Health that an outbreak in Thailand is now possible due to the number of Chinese visitors in the country.

The statement from the Disease Control Department at the Ministry of Public Health has pointed out to an outbreak being ‘highly possible’ in Thailand’s key tourist centres accommodating Chinese visitors.

The alarm has been raised after a Japanese tour bus driver was confirmed on Wednesday of having contracted the disease which is now known to be infectious during the 14 day incubation period, from Chinese tourists he was ferrying. The Japanese man has never been to China or Wuhan, the epicentre of this outbreak.

Tourists from Wuhan stranded in Thailand

This week, the Ministry of Public Health disclosed that there were 22,000 Chinese visitors stranded in Thailand with no way home, 80% of whom were from Wuhan, the city currently on lockdown.

Senior official in Thai Department of Disease Control warns that popular tourist areas are at risk

Today’s announcement was made by Dr Tanarak Plipat, the Deputy Director of the Disease Control Department at the Ministry of Public Health. 

‘An outbreak in Thailand is possible. As in Japan, it will start with local transmission on a very limited scale and later grow to the provincial level,’ the official said. ‘We are closely monitoring sensitive areas with large numbers of Chinese tourists such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Bangkok, which are highly possible to be specific outbreak areas.’

Wash hands and avoid crowded public spaces

Dr Tanarak warned the public of the need to wash their hands often and to avoid public spaces with large crowds.

The official also disclosed that a meeting of provincial medical officials and staff has been scheduled for Thursday to prepare for the possibility that the virus will take hold in provincial areas.

Report of a Chinese tourist death in Chiang Mai

Meanwhile, Thailand’s Channel One News on Wednesday reported the death of 32-year-old Chinese woman at resort yesterday who is said to have passed away suddenly after complaining of a fever.

Medical responders to the scene wore masks and disease prevention outfits. The incident is being investigated by police at Mae Rim police station in Chiang Mai.

Minister said this week that closing Thailand’s borders to Chinese visitors would be excessive

The latest news follows calls by the public for Chinese tourism into Thailand to be halted and the country’s borders closed temporarily to its northern neighbour.

Such a move was rejected outright by the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, this week. He said that such a move would be excessive.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the Philippines had taken such steps but today authorities in Manila are denying that any such order was given.

Thailand is now the most infected country outside China with the virus.

However, figures so far, have been minuscule compared to the outbreak in China with many instances of people recovering and being discharged from both observation and treatment after contracting or being suspected of carrying the infection. 

This has been the basis for the firmly confident statements by both the Minister for Public Health and the Prime Minister this week up until now.

Up to 5 million people escaped Wuhan and Hubei provinces before the lockdown was enforced

Chinese officials have conceded that up to 5 million people from Wuhan and Hubei province may have transited outside the ravaged city and province which were put into lockdown last week stoking fears that the virus may not be able to be decisively confined as hoped by that move.

Among these, were 20 Thay navy personnel, overseeing the building of a submarine in Wuhan, who left the city and subsequently made their way back to Thailand despite reports over the weekend that they were safe in China.

The naval personnel, on Tuesday, denied that they knew the city was going to be locked down before they took their trip outside Wuhan to avoid the contagion.

Thai military aircraft denied access to Wuhan

Meanwhile, the Thai government has revealed that permission for Thai military C130 aircraft to fly to Wuhan to evacuate up to 70 Thai citizens has been denied by Chinese authorities.

The Chinese have indicated that a commercial aeroplane may be allowed to airlift the students and workers who have been stranded there as the city has turned into a ghost town with severe shortages of food on shop shelves.

Government looking at using a chartered flight 

The Thai government is reported to be taking steps to organised a charter and to ensure that, in the meantime, Thai nationals have access to food and resources as the emergency evacuation is being organised.

This follows the removal of over 200 Japanese citizens from Wuhan on Wednesday and moves now afoot to remove European, French and US citizens.

Australian scientists have cloned the virus

Meanwhile, scientists and doctors at the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne today confirmed that they have reproduced the virus which can be used to create vaccines and to predict its behaviour.

Chinese authorities had already achieved this but would only share the gnome sequence of the virus.

Information shared with the WHO in Geneva 

The information was announced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The scientists lab created the virus from an infected patient.

This can now also be used to create antibody test drugs for use on people not yet exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Copies will be sent to the World Health Organisation headquarters in Geneva.

Death toll in China now confirmed at 132

China today confirmed over 132 deaths with nearly 6,200 infections. It has also been confirmed that the virus spreads from sneeze or vapour molecules from coughs.

There is still no conclusive information on its infectiousness although scientists fear that this is a virus that is possibly more infectious before full symptoms run their course.

14 cases of infection detected so far in Thailand

In Thailand, there are now 14 confirmed cases with 6 more Chinese tourists being held at a medical facility in Nonthaburi. Thai officials highlight that 5 have already been sent home.

Officials today also informed the media that so far 158 people have been placed under medical observation of which 62 are already discharged.

Further reading:

Minister denies the government is prioritising tourism over safety tackling the Chinese corona virus

Government says virus under control in Thailand but the infection rate in China is worrying medical experts

Thai health officials vigilant as they brace for Chinese New Year tourists as new virus spreads rapidly in China