BANGKOK: The party may be over for foreigners – a secret report has been seen by a Thai news agency. It suggests that experts feel the kingdom is unlikely to suffer an epidemic. However, the report argues that special orders may be required to stop localised breakouts in Bangkok and 8 other provinces popular with foreigners. This may include the closure of entertainment venues.
Thailand has extended its list of high-risk originating countries to include the United States, the United Kingdom and nine other nations in a move just announced. This means all passengers from these countries are subject to self-quarantine orders for 14 days in addition to daily reporting of their health condition to the Thai Ministry of Public Health. Failure to comply with the provisions could see those in breach landed with fines of up to ฿100,000 or faced with a 1-year prison sentence in Thailand.
Thailand announced 7 more cases of the coronavirus on Saturday bringing the total to 82 infections. The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health Sukhum Kanchanapimai, however, highlighted that right now, only 2 cases have been detected in Thailand where authorities cannot identify the origin.
Most of the new cases were related to Thai travellers returning from Japan or who had links to the party of 11 announced in the last few days who contracted the disease after two nights out.
One case which Thai authorities are investigating involves a well-known actor, Matthew ‘Deane’ Chanthavanij, who is currently being treated at Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok.
45 other patients in total are in care with only 1 death so far.
11 more countries labelled a risk including the US, UK, France, Germany and other European nations
There are reports that further action to protect the public will need to be taken and are being weighed up at the highest level.
On Saturday, it was announced that 11 countries including many western jurisdictions were being added to the risk categories in addition to 6 countries and territories announced last week.
These 11 countries are being designated as zones of ongoing local transmission of the disease.
This means that visitors from these countries will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Thailand and to avail of an app to report their health status on a daily basis to authorities. The special smartphone app to do this is available at Thai airports.
The 11 countries now added to the list are the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark.
Disease infected zone requirements
Further requirements are in place in respect of China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Hong Kong and Macau.
In addition to self-quarantine and reporting requirements, travellers from these locations must obtain a medical certificate dated within 48 hours and present it to their airline before boarding a plane to Thailand.
Stricter requirements for all travellers and higher penalties for breaching the orders
The new announcement also highlights stricter penalties for those travellers from high-risk countries who breach the control orders.
The penalty for failure to comply with the daily health status update has risen from ฿20,000 to ฿100,000 or the possibility of 1 year in prison.
In addition, after a 14 day quarantine, all visitors are required to notify authorities of their itinerary so that officials, if required, can easily monitor and follow up on potential contacts in the event of a crisis.
Secret report expressed concern about Bangkok and 8 other key provinces popular with foreigners
There are also reports through the Thai news agency Isara of a secret government report prepared by an emergency centre overseeing the fight against the virus.
This has advised that action must be taken in respect of Bangkok and 8 other provinces which are popular with foreign tourists.
Experts urge the government to introduce social control measures which could affect tourism
The report warned that these areas could enter a full-blown phase 3 breakout by May, with over 2,000 cases. This will happen, it argues, if immediate action is not taken to introduce self-isolation and distancing measures.
This may see a ban on social gatherings and even the closure of entertainment venues if the government adopts a tough line.
Right now, in Thailand’s popular tourist spots, it is the older western clientele that is helping to keep tourism concerns barely above water.
The report suggests that the current crisis will not be over by May but only reaching its most dangerous point.
A conclusion that Thailand is unlikely to have an epidemic challenged by respected Thai physicians
However, the report’s prognosis was that it is unlikely that Thailand will face a full-blown phase 3 epidemic.
This view was challenged over the weekend when a highly respected physician’s body, the Thoracic Society, issued an urgent statement to the government.
The Thoracic Society is an organisation of physicians in Thailand specialising in lung and chest infections for over 60 years.
In a powerful submission on Facebook, the body warned that the number of infections in recent days may be ominous.
It said that the number of local transmissions of the virus, now being recorded, indicates that the country is moving into phase 3.
Hospitals not prepared, lack of decisive leadership
The body of physicians argued that, currently, Thai hospitals are unprepared for this eventuality which will require the isolation of infected patients.
The statement also indicated a lack of confidence in the leadership coming from the government in the fight against the coronavirus threat.
‘The virus outbreak has shown that state mechanisms designed to respond to national crises are always one step behind,’ the doctors observed. ‘But this does not dampen the spirit of medical professionals who will not surrender to these tiny enemies. We will not bow to those in high places who lack expertise and do not understand how we work. Now is the time for us to prepare for war even if there are no efficient weapons or decisive commanders.’
New order forcing private hospitals to deal with emergency virus situations without turning away
The Director-General of the Health Service Support Department, Tares Krassanairawiwong, on Saturday, disclosed that an order had been issued to all private hospitals which instructs that any patient presenting in an emergency with the infection must be either treated by the hospital or appropriate measures taken. These include steps to quarantine them and deliver them to an alternative location where care is available.
Hospitals are prohibited from letting patients in such situations simply walk back out the door and on to the street.
Foreigners face a coronavirus test bill of ฿10,000
This raises the question of testing for the virus for foreigners in Thailand whether as expats or tourists.
A survey by a Thai patient this week found that the lowest cost for a test including a medical interview for a Thai national from 18 hospitals in the vicinity of Bangkok wast ฿3,500 ($120) while the average was ฿6,000 with some hospitals quoting ฿10,000 to ฿15,000 even for a Thai national.
This means that foreigners seeking a test could be forced to pay ฿10,000 or more. Some western foreigners have reported finding certain hospitals providing the service for ฿6,000.
These costs are likely to be higher for foreign patients as new Thai regulations allow Thai hospitals to set different price tiers for Thai citizens and non-nationals.
This pricing structure also applies to emergency treatment.
Promise of support for Thai hospital personnel from the Ministry of Public Health boss including extra pay
Meanwhile, the permanent secretary, Dr Sukhum, announced that the government was beginning deliveries to Thai hospitals of additional protective clothing and N96 medical masks following complaints in recent days of a tight supply.
The health supremo also promised all medical professionals the full support of the government including extra pay for their work in dealing with the crisis.
He urged Chinese authorities to get their manufacturing sector back to work as he revealed that Thailand has applied for 180 million face mask from its northern neighbour as well as 1 million N96 medical masks and special protective clothing kits.
Prime Minister calls for constructive commentary as he underlined the multiple threats being tackled
On Saturday, the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha said that he had no problem with criticism of the government but called for respect and appropriate limits. He urged those concerned to work with authorities to fight the threat and to make the criticism constructive.
He also pointed to the country’s growing economic crisis and the harshest drought seen in 40 years.
He reminded the public that Thailand was still dependent on exports and tourism to push its economy forward while also having to adapt to challenges.
Last week, Thailand announced the suspension of visa on arrival facilities for up to 22 different countries but by Friday the measures had been rescinded on the basis that advance notice had to be extended to the countries involved.
News due again next week after visa on arrival was curtailed for 22 countries and then reversed
The reversal followed an urgent meeting between the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha, Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul and the Foreign Minister, Don Pramudwinai.
The rescinding of the order was the result of legal advice suggesting that such arrangements cannot be unilaterally altered without consultation with the corresponding countries. This is now taking place and a further decision is expected next week.
Cambodia and Vietnam announce blanket bans
On Saturday also, it was announced that Vietnam, Thailand’s competitor in the tourist sector with an admittedly smaller market share and economy, had banned all arrivals from the United Kingdom and European Schengen area nations comprising the majority of countries in mainland Europe.
There was also an announcement from Cambodia which imposed a blanket ban on travellers from Italy, Germany, France, Spain and the United States.