Ship at sea: On Wednesday, the Thai Marine Department said it had not been approached by the US ship Westerdam to dock in Thailand following earlier reports that the Minister of Public Health had refused to let passengers from the ship disembark at Laem Chabang Port in Chonburi. Authorities are still guarded after the 33rd case of coronavirus was announced on Tuesday. Later on Wednesday, as the ship was escorted by the HTMS Bhumibol, it was reported that the ship was heading for a Cambodian port.

As Thai officials consider the fate of an American owned cruise ship that has been trying in vain to find a port following a coronavirus scare, the country is also hoping that news from China and a recovery in oil prices may indicate the start of the end to the crisis. Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak acknowledged last week that the viral outbreak has shut down many parts of the economy including factories and its lucrative Chinese tourist trade. However, there are reasons to be cautious and wary still.

Both the Thai Prime Minister Paryut Chan ocha and the Public Health Minister were wary of the US cruise ship Westerdam’s attempts to dock in Thailand. On Wednesday, it was mooted that it could be allowed to dock subject to strict quarantine controls but had not applied to the Marine Department. Meanwhile, oil prices shot up on Wednesday as Chinese President Xi Jiping appeared in Beijing (inset) as the country began to face the test of containing the virus while the Chinese economy restarts.

83-year-old Zhong Nanshan, a respected and acknowledged Chinese expert, has expressed a hope that the coronavirus outbreak that by Wednesday had caused 1,155 deaths with over 45,000 infected could be over by April.

On Wednesday, oil prices shot up following reports of the infection rate declining.

However, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is warning that the threat to the world from the virus is still very grave and dangerous.

Many medical experts agree with that assessment given the rate of infection of this virus is far higher than SARs albeit with a lower mortality rate.

China misinformed the world in early January

There is also reason to believe that Chinese authorities, who misinformed the world early in January for nearly two weeks, may be faced with a crucial decision as that country’s economy gets back to work.

Mr Zhong, who works closely with Chinese authorities, has conceded that the acid test will be containing the virus as up to 400 million people in China and most of the population employed by the country’s economy get back to work in the coming weeks.

Thailand’s 33rd infection announced on Tuesday

On Tuesday, Thailand announced its 33rd infection for the coronavirus, newly named Convid 19 last weekend by the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

On Wednesday, the death toll climbed higher to 1,115 cases and the number of infected people reached 45,183 in China and across the world but mostly within the highly infected Hubei province.

Decisive action and efforts now paying off in China

Chinese authorities are drawing attention to the fact that the number of new infections announced since February 5th last has begun to decrease as that country’s drastic prevention efforts are beginning to pay off.

This has included locking down Hubei province with a population of 60 million people and other cities throughout the country to prevent the spread.

It is being reported that, even now, strenuous efforts to contain the spread of the virus have left up to 400 million Chinese people locked down and large swathes of the Chinese economy closed.

Authorities feel they may be at a turning point

Another key factor that has led to a reduction in new cases being detected and has prompted Chinese authorities to feel that they have reached a turning point, has been the effectiveness of increased medical resources being deployed to Wuhan where two temporary hospitals were constructed by the Chinese army and where up to 20,000 medical personnel were drafted in from other Chinese regions to allow the health service to finally admit and treat all sufferers.

Focus now on curing those with severe symptoms

It is thought that the inability of local health services initially to cope with the outbreak was a key factor which led to the virus getting out of control in the locked-down area.

Now, it is reported that Chinese doctors are focusing on improving treatment for patients in hospitals with severe symptoms and reducing the mortality rate.

Opening the Chinese economy is the big test

The challenge for China and the Communist Party is that the economy has not swung back into action as expected on February 8th last with many factories and place of employment still shuttered to allow for the progress seen in halting the viral spread. 

Zhong Nanshan, a member of China’s Academy of Engineering and who is also an epidemiologist as well as a respiratory expert was highly involved latterly in containing the SARS outbreak in 2003.

He has acknowledged that the success of the efforts to defeat the virus will still be very much influenced by the effectiveness of containment efforts as the country gradually and carefully goes back to work. This has not happened yet on a large scale.

The threat is being upgraded outside China

Outside of China, the threat of the virus has been acknowledged as over 25 countries now have infected people.

The Director-General of the World Health Organisation has warned that the virus poses a ‘very grave threat’ to the world.

On Monday, he warned that some cases of the infection now involved people with no history of travel to China such as in the last few days in France: ‘The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire, but for now it’s only a spark.’

Fears that the trend in China may be reversed as normal work conditions resume in population centres

Most experts see the fight to contain the virus in China as the critical test also for the world with some observers fearing that if the current downward trend of infections is reversed as the Chinese economy attempts to resume normality that the Chinese Communist Party leadership may be forced to choose between accepting a prevalent level of viral infection.

Shutting down the economy for a longer period is simply not an option as financial pressures grow in the system.

Oil shot up on Wednesday – the market is hopeful

The impact of the Chinese shutdown has seen oil drop steeply to a low of $53.27 on Monday although today it has jumped over 1.76% to $54.96. 

Today, we see signs of movement in the Chinese economy and a gambit that the country can keep the virus under control while allowing the economy to reawaken.

President Xi in an unprecedented public appearance

It is a significant moment for the communist country and one which has been accompanied by an unprecedented appearance by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the streets of Beijing where he visited a hospital and went to a local neighbourhood to meet Chinese people living with measures to counter the virus.

Latest case 54-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan

The latest case announced in Thailand on Tuesday involved a 54-year old Chinese woman from Wuhan who was infected by the virus on February 8th according to lab tests.

Suwanchai Wattanayingcharoenchai, the Director-General of the Department of Disease Control announced the news but appeared confidently optimistic. ‘The 33rd patient got sick from contact and her condition is not severe,’ he said

Currently, 23 of those infected by the Convid 19 virus are being treated in Thailand including an elderly taxi driver whose condition was considered quite serious. 10 people have made a full recovery.

Thailand checking flu sufferers for coronavirus

This week, there were reports that Thai medical authorities were running sweeping checks on the normally huge numbers of reported sufferers of flu across the health service to try to detect any further cases and be sure that the threat is under control.

Thailand has shown solidarity with China

Thailand has steadfastly refused to cut off all flights from China and has even retained visa on arrival status for Chinese tourists despite a move in recent weeks by the Minister for Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul to withdraw the status.

The move was opposed by the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and the Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.

The country has been lauded by China and Chinese media for its solidarity with the communist country in its time of need. 

Meanwhile, Singapore continues to deny entry to the city-state to Chinese passport holders or anyone who has visited China in the last 14 days.

Wary stance with US cruise ship

On Tuesday, however, Thai authorities adopted a tough line with the American cruise ship Westerdam owned by the Carnival Corporation in Miami.

The ship carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew was denied the right to disembark at the Thai port of Laem Chabang on the orders of the Minister for Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.

The ship was previously refused by Japanese authorities last Saturday at the port of Okinawa.

A passenger on the ship is reported to have contracted the coronavirus and it was also denied entry by authorities in Manila and Guam.

WHO confirmed no sufferer aboard

However, reports also suggest that the World Health Organisation in Geneva has confirmed that there are no coronavirus sufferers on board the ship.

An international association for cruise ship professionals the ICSEPA (International Cruise Ship Entertainment Professional Association) has urged governments to accommodate the ship on humanitarian grounds.

However, Thai authorities have responded that the key priority is the safety of Thai nationals but on Tuesday the Thai Prime Minister pointed out that help could be provided to the ship and its passengers without those aboard disembarking.

Ship may be allowed to dock subject to strict quarantine measures officials have suggested

On Wednesday, it was suggested that the ship can be supplied or even allowed to dock if it was subjected to rigorous quarantine requirements.

However, Thailand’s Marine Department has confirmed that it has received no request from the ship’s operators Holland America Line to consider the request. This would then be reviewed by the Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, Immigration Department and the Customs Service. 

Later on Wednesday, as the luxury cruise ship was escorted by the Thai frigate HTMS Bhumibol, it was reported that it was heading for a Cambodian port. Excited passengers watched the naval ship as it made its way alongside the liner at sea.

Expert hopes the crisis will be over in April

Meanwhile, 83-year-old Zhong Nanshan has predicted that the peak number of infections in China will be reached sometime between the middle and the end of February.

‘I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,’ he said this week on a visit to Guangzhou Medical University Hospital.

Further reading:

Health Minister in an outburst against western foreigners as 7 more are infected by the coronavirus

80% of China’s economy remains shutdown as Thai Deputy PM warns of another economic storm

Thailand repatriates nationals from Wuhan with 6 more infections announced by the Health Ministry

US Commerce Secretary Ross calls on US firms to review investments in China after coronavirus outbreak

Thai King offers solidarity and support to the Chinese leadership during the coronavirus crisis

Thai Airways suspends flights to six Chinese destinations as coronavirus outbreak grows

Bank interest rate cut anticipated as a devastated tourism industry battles with the Chinese coronavirus threat

Taxi driver is infected by Chinese tourist as Public Health Minister supports scrapping visa on arrival

Thailand awaits Chinese economic recovery as oil shoots up

+ Thailand awaits Chinese recovery as oil shoots up, hoped that the crisis may end by April – Thai authorities wary of US cruise ship Westerdam trying to dock. O Connor reports from Bangkok

Posted by on Wednesday, February 12, 2020