BANGKOK: Expert physicians with Thailand’s Thoracic Society have warned that the rise in infections up to the weekend indicates the beginning of a wider outbreak. However, a secret report by a government committee seen by journalists suggested that the country would not see a phase 3 situation. It did warn about 8 tourist hotspot provinces including Bangkok and the possibility of over 2,000 infections by May, if social isolation measures were not enforced.

Thailand has announced the largest uptick in coronavirus infection in one day on Sunday just days after a society of lung and respiratory physicians warned the government that it believed the country was on the verge of a phase 3 breakout. It comes as the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, looks set to request sweeping new restrictions on travel to the kingdom as well as social activities at home. The minister on Saturday revealed that 60 foreigners, mostly European, had already been turned back from entering Thailand.

On Sunday, Thailand announced 32 new infections of the deadly Convid 19 coronavirus. It follows a warning from the long-established Thoracic Society of physicians, treating lung and respiratory problems in hospitals, that the country was now tipping into a phase 3 outbreak. The statement of the medical professionals came on Facebook at the start of the weekend. Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha (inset bottom) has come out against a proposal pushed by the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, (inset top) to close bars and music venues.

Thailand has reported its biggest uptick in the number of coronavirus infections since the outbreak began. It follows several days with higher numbers and a statement at the beginning of the weekend by a society of expert physicians, the Thai Thoracic Society, warning that the kingdom may be on the verge of an uncontrollable phase 3 breakout of the disease.

An emergency operations centre and panel advising the government this week produced a report suggesting otherwise. The government experts said a nationwide phase 3 breakout was unlikely but did warn of over 2,000 infections in 8 provinces as well as Bangkok linked to tourism.

Move to clarify the curtailment of visa on arrival facilities to 22 countries by Foreign Ministry

Meanwhile, the Thai government has moved to clarify confusion which arose on Thursday and Friday concerning the withdrawal or curtailment of its visa on arrival facilities for 22 countries. 

It was reported after a cabinet level meeting between the PM, the Public Health Minister and Foreign Minister on Friday that the measures had been lifted pending bilateral discussions with the countries involved.

Now the government states categorically that the cancellation of visa on arrival for 18 countries went into effect on Friday as well as the withdrawal of visa exemptions from other countries known to be highly infected by the virus.

Confusion caused by multiple spokespeople

The confusion on the matter was caused by multiple spokespeople for the government briefing the press.

The latest confirmation comes from Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Saturday to help clarify matters. 

However, there is still confusion over Russia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau with the existence of bilateral agreements with those countries and territories.

Some conflicting reports still insist that nationals travelling from these locations can enter without a visa. They would still be subject to other provisions which in respect of the latter three. These include quarantine orders and the submission of medical reports.

The Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha has also said that the measures are now in force as did the Interior Minister, General Anupong Paojinda, who said these orders are in force until September 30th next.

Extension of disease control laws to 11 countries including the United States and United Kingdom

Over the weekend, the media was also briefed on the addition of a new disease control zone for countries where there is local transmission of the virus. The information was published by at least one state agency.

Eleven countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Japan, France and Germany are included in the order.

It means that travellers from those countries are required to quarantine and comply with other requirements of the Ministry of Public Health including daily health status reports.

Please read our story on the new measures and high-risk countries here

Minister of Public Health moves to close bars and to use sweeping legal powers. PM to oppose such a move.

The Minister of Public Health will hold discussions with the special government panel advising on the coronavirus emergency and is calling for the closure of all bars and establishments where people drink together as well as entertainment venues. 

However, it is understood that the prime minister opposes such a move at this time.

The measures would be enforceable under the 2015 Communicable Diseases Act and the 1991 National Administration Act which gives sweeping powers to the government and ministers over state agencies.

Proposals to be discussed by an expert committee

The meeting will also discuss the extension of communicable disease areas and an official ban on mass gatherings.

There are also reports of a proposed blanket quarantine on foreign travellers to Thailand and the extension of the medical certificate requirement.

This would mean that flyers to the country would need to pass on a medical certificate to their airline valid within 48 hours to board flights to Thailand.

60 foreigners, mostly Europeans, refused entry into Thailand according to the Public Health Minister

The Minister of Public Health has revealed that 60 foreign travellers have already been refused entry into Thailand, mainly from Europe.

On Saturday, the minister reaffirmed that the country was not yet in a phase 3 breakout of the virus into widespread circulation and told reporters that he did not think this would happen.

Advice to foreigners on the ongoing situation

For foreigners travelling to Thailand, the Thai Examiner would like to advise that the current situation is fluid with government officials making proposals which sometimes are quashed or experience a lag in being implemented.

The best advice is to liaise with your airline and on arrival in Thailand, to seek advice from the Immigration authorities. Thailand’s Tourism Authority has also begun to make information available on its website.

Moving towards banket provisions and orders

It appears that the country is now moving to blanket provisions which may simplify things.

The country is trying to balance the fight against the coronavirus with the need to protect its economy which is heavily dependent on tourism.

However, it looks for now like Thailand is moving toward a heightened emergency where the public’s health, as in Europe, must be a priority.

Further reading:

Anutin is proposing to close all bars and music venues including nightclubs and go gos

Thailand extends quarantine rule for western countries including the US and the UK over virus

Thai Deputy PM Anutin warns the public to be wary of dirty white western tourists who don’t shower

Thailand’s Tourism Authority website – see news announcements