The charter flight was provided by Air Asia which is expanding rapidly in Thailand, free of charge. This generous offer was communicated to the government last Friday. The World Health Organisation describes the challenge now facing China and 22 other countries affected by the outbreak as the prevention of another outbreak such as that which occurred in Hubei province and in particular Wuhan, where conditions are still shocking and medical facilities overcrowded despite a publicity push by Communist Party authorities showing two newly built but very basic medical facilities being run by the military there.
Thailand airlifted 138 trapped nationals from Wuhan on Tuesday in an operation long-anticipated and that will be welcomed by the public. It came as officials with the Ministry of Public Health revealed 6 more cases of the coronavirus infection, this time the majority of them being Thai nationals including two infected by Chinese tourists. In Geneva, the World Health Organisation has said that the current outbreak is an epidemic and not a pandemic as governments in 22 countries including Thailand, work to prevent another mass outbreak.
On Tuesday evening, there was an uplifting moment for Thais concerned about the current coronavirus outbreak, when a plane carrying 138 Thais stranded in Wushan since the week before last, landed at the Thai Navy’s U-Tapao Airport in Rayong.
Flight FD571 landed on the tarmac at 8.40 pm and was quickly surrounded by medical teams wearing hazmat suits.
Plane provided by Air Asia free of charge
The plane, a chartered Air Asia flight was provided by the Malaysian based airline which operates an expanding network in Thailand, free of charge. This was confirmed on Friday in a welcome communication to Thai authorities putting together the rescue effort.
Thai personnel from the embassy in Beijing travelled to Wuhan on Saturday to coordinate the rescue which will see all evacuees quarantined by the Thai Navy for at least 14 days at the naval base at Sattahip in Chonburi.
6 more cases of infection announced by the Public Health Ministry bringing the total to 25
It comes as, on Tuesday afternoon, Thai authorities updated the public and announced that 6 more cases of the coronavirus had been detected. This time, 4 of the sufferers were Thai nationals as well as two Chinese tourists.
Two of Thai people infected had contracted the disease in Japan and Thai authorities are currently checking with their counterparts there. The other two Thais had contracted the virus from transporting Chinese tourists visiting Thailand.
Minister gave a positive press conference on virus
After the plane landed last night, the Minister for Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, gave an upbeat press conference to the media where he revealed that all those hospitalised for the infection are responding well to treatment.
Minister Anutin said that those with acute symptoms were older people or with existing conditions.
The minister revealed that there are now 16 people being treated with nine having made a full recovery. ‘The remaining patients are recovering and are likely to be declared cured in the near future. Those who developed serious symptoms also suffer from other diseases and are old.’
The other good news was that a 50-year-old taxi driver, who contracted the infection for a Chinese tourist last week, has now been fully cured. The man appeared before the media.
Ministry officials also confirmed that none of the 138 Thai nationals evacuated from Wuhan had contracted the infection although they will remain in quarantine.
Conditions in Hubei and Wuhan are still shocking
Meanwhile, in China, the death toll has now risen to 493 with up to 25,000 infections as hospitals in Wuhan and Hubei province facing massive overcrowding, chaotic conditions with overworked medical personnel despite the construction of two medical facilities being run by the military.
There is also horrific footage verified by western news agencies, including the Paris based France 24, showing multiple body bags left in the back vans being used by emergency services.
Concern for an elderly Thai driver already suffering from tuberculosis, one of the lastest infections
Medical authorities in Thailand have indicated that there is concern for an elderly Thai man among the victims who was already suffering from tuberculosis and whose condition requires a respirator.
The experts have indicated that the other five sufferers, including the two Chinese tourists, are responding well to treatment and likely to make a full recovery.
The chronically sick man had transported a Chinese woman to Hua Hin where the woman has been treated for the infection and is responding well.
The latest figures bring the total number of infections to 25 with 9 patients having made a full recovery.
WHO insists that this is not yet a pandemic
In Geneva on Tuesday, the World Health Organisation insisted that the current outbreak including infections outside China does not constitute a pandemic but a but an ‘epidemic with multiple foci’ according to Sylvie Briand who is the Head of the Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division of the World Health Organisation.
The WHO officer described the current situation, where the disease has now appeared in 22 other countries, as still representing ‘spillover cases’ from the Wuhan and Hubei outbreak where isolated clusters of infection can be expected to develop.
Goal now is to prevent another outbreak such as occurred in Hubei says the key WHO officer
The WHO expert said that the goal now was to prevent another situation such as that which has developed in China’s Hubei province where nearly 60 million people are currently locked down since last week and where the numbers of infections and deaths are still rising.
‘We hope that based on measures in Hubei but also in other places where we have had spillover, we can stop transmission and get rid of this virus,’ Ms Briand explained. She warned that this challenge would not be easy.
Warning that masks are not sufficient protection in themselves and that washing hands is critical
The WHO official has also warned that wearing a face mask is primarily a means of halting the spread of the disease but does not in itself offer people protection.
One of the key requirements is that people wash their hands as WHO experts do not yet know how long the virus lives after droplets from infected individuals are left on surfaces and objects.
Ms Briand warned that those wearing masks should not develop a false sense of security and should regularly sanitise their hands as the best strategy to minimise the risk of contracting the deadly virus.