BANGKOK: Deputy PM Wissanu Kruagnam on Monday emphasised that the country was still in Phase 2 stage in the battle against the virus. He said the officials can track all infections so far. However, a cabinet meeting this week will discuss the temporary closure of schools, universities, cinemas and other venues for intensive cleaning. Meanwhile, Thailand is making available an app and sim card to all foreign travellers at its airports which captures personal data on a live database and tracks their moves and health status in real-time.
A leading Thai virologist has called for stronger and more decisive government action against the coronavirus. He has described efforts up to now as a mere ‘rehearsal’ for what is to come. He warns that there is a risk to everybody in Thailand as the numbers infected rose again on Monday to another record with 33 new infections. Dr Yong Poovorawan of Chulalongkorn University says the government must act to halt transmission among crowds. He says that it is already certain that there will be a widespread breakout of the disease in the kingdom.
Thailand’s Deputy PM told the press on Monday that Thailand is still in a controlled local transmission phase of the coronavirus epidemic. He said that, as of today, there are no cases that have not been traced or linked to prior infections or incoming travellers including foreign visitors.
Wissanu Krea-ngam, a veteran Thai administrator and the government’s legal expert, also assured the public that the information being supplied by authorities is transparent.
He called on the public to remain calm as fears that the virus is about to enter an uncontrollable Phase 3 state, mount.
33 new infections bringing the total to 147
On Monday, Thailand announced a further 33 cases, the biggest so far, following a spike of 32 new infections announced on Sunday.
This prompted panic buying in the country at large superstores despite comments from Prime Minister Chan ocha that this was not a time to begin stockpiling food.
Today’s record number of infections follows a significant rise since the end of last week and a warning from lung and respiratory physicians at the weekend indicating that the Phase 3 outbreak may have already begun.
Thai PM did not rule out a Phase 3 breakout on Sunday as the government prepared for the worst
On Sunday, however, the prime minister did acknowledge that the kingdom may be heading for a Phase 3 outbreak. He said he was against, for now, the closure of nightlife and entertainment centres. On Monday, however, he suggested that such measures may indeed become necessary.
Reports suggest that measures, to be presented to the cabinet this week, include the temporary closure of schools, universities, cinemas and sports arenas for urgent cleaning to halt the spread of the virus.
This was confirmed by Deputy PM Wissanu on Monday but he did not mention action on bars and entertainment outlets.
The government may move first to ban larger venues which cater for groups of 50 people or over.
Virologist believes efforts to contain the virus are too timid and battling against the tide
As the government strains its resources to balance the twin aims of keeping the Thai economy and tourism alive with protecting the public against the virus, one leading Thai virologist claims that these efforts may simply be battling against the tide.
While these efforts are still critical, a more incisive response is required even if it damages the economy in the short term.
Everyone in Thailand is at risk
On Monday, Yong Poovorawan, who is the head of Chulalongkorn’s Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology, warned that the virus will become widespread: ‘That’s because everyone will risk catching the disease in the near future.’
Thai people covered for emergency healthcare on the universal scheme say top officials
The health expert was speaking as Thai officials have announced that all nationals will be covered under the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients for emergency hospital treatment for the first 72 hours.
This will apply to both private and public hospitals.
The government is trying to encourage a response where patients are treated as close as possible to where they live or first contract the disease.
Public patients can receive emergency treatments at private hospitals for free under new measures
This was announced on Sunday by the PM and shows that the government is planning for an outbreak.
The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Sukhum Kanchanapimai, also confirmed the approach to public patients: ‘The prime minister and the public health minister agree they can continue to stay at private hospitals and pay nothing.’
New hospital and other medical centres being adapted to the handing of coronavirus cases
On Sunday, the prime minister said that the government will respond with whatever it takes to fight the virus and overcome it no matter what the cost.
The Minister of the Interior, General Anupong Paojinda, announced the use of a ฿2 billion new and as yet unopened hospital in Bang Khunthian with 200 beds in the south of Bangkok near the Gulf of Thailand, was to be put to use for potential Convid 19 patients.
Other redundant facilities would be reopened while others would be reorientated to fit this purpose.
This could be timely as Dr Yong told the media on Sunday that the ‘rehearsal’ to control this epidemic in Thailand has ended. This clearly alludes to a Phase 3 breakout beginning.
Cancel all crowds and launch aggressive lockdown efforts says expert Chulalongkorn virologist
Dr Yong has confirmed that he believes that Thailand will enter a Phase 3 level of the virus and pinpointed entertainment and sports events as some of the biggest threats to preventing the virus spread and an uncontrollable outbreak.
He said it is very difficult to track infections that break out among crowds attending such events.
He has called for the government to adopt a more aggressive approach, as seen already in China and South Korea, to lock down the virus suggesting that the sooner that action was taken the better.
Foreigners in Thailand with chronic health issues must self isolate now as a matter of urgency
The extent and virulence of the Phase 3 breakouts in European countries particularly in Spain and Italy should forewarn all foreigners living in Thailand or visiting.
Aside from social concerns about the nightlife and keeping up with government measures, the biggest issue of concern is that many expats in Thailand are believed to have chronic underlying health issues, not least diabetes and heart conditions.
Even for those with health insurance, there may be issues if the crisis becomes a full-blown one and medical resources are limited.
The situation, at this point, really calls for maximum care not to contract the virus which means intensive self-isolation efforts must start now in addition to basic precautions such as hand washing.
All Songkran activities postponed for now
On Monday, Thailand also confirmed that all aspects of the Songkran festivities and the holiday itself have been postponed until least July.
This action was one urged by Dr Yong of Chulalongkorn University who warned that any celebrations at this time could have ‘fanned’ the flames of this highly infectious virus.
Special smartphone app and sim cards for all incoming foreign travellers with live monitoring
For foreigners arriving in Thailand, special sim cards are being made available to all travellers at Thai airports as well as the self-reporting smartphone application through the Airports Authority of Thailand.
This is a mandatory programme for all visitors from countries designated as high risk.
The app and sim card records all personal information including passport details and can be used by authorities to track visitors if required should they contract the virus.
The app is an essential feature for the self-quarantine and daily health reporting which are now required by law from all visitors from high-risk countries.
This is both for their own safety and the public in Thailand.
The app and tracking system is also being used by Thai returnees from high-risk locations who are also obliged to comply with the measures announced by the Ministry of Public Health.
App unveiled by Digital Economy and Society Minister on Thursday linked with Immigration Bureau
The app itself was unveiled on Thursday by Digital Economy and Society Minister, Buddhipongse Punnakanta.
It is a joint effort with Thailand’s Immigration Bureau, the Department Of Disease Control, the Airport Authority of Thailand and the country’s 5 leading mobile providers.
The smart move follows an early collaboration between the Department of Disease Control and the Immigration Bureau which is also using its biometric database to help protect Thailand against the virus by tracking foreigners on a live basis.
The app, on the other hand, has key benefits for foreigners such as the ability to inform them if they have arrived on a flight which contained an infected passenger.
It also highlights that at this time of crisis, privacy concerns are a more minor matter.
Pattaya bars ready to cooperate in the fight against the virus including closing their doors
Meanwhile, in Pattaya, the secretary of the association representing the city’s sprawling nightlife industry has told local news outlet, The Pattaya News, that bars and venues are ready to cooperate with the government and play their part in the fight against the virus.
‘After the news about people infected with the virus at nightclubs and a party in Bangkok, not many people are going out for nightlife already. The past several nights, we’ve seen substantially reduced traffic on Walking Street. We’ve been affected by the situation already. Staffers are also worried about the virus spread and the use of masks and sanitizers has increased,’ Damrongkiet Pinitkarn explained.
Flight of Pattaya workers home to northeast provinces may pose a further risk if nightlife shuts
The industry leader also called for property owners and landlords to show some consideration to operators under financial pressure at this time.
He also warned that, if the resort’s nightlife is closed down, it will see tens of thousands of workers, many from Thailand’s northeast, return home, which could cause another headache for health authorities. This may, in fact, have already begun.
Buriram orders lockdown measures
The move to control the virus in Thailand is also seeing provincial governors take action as provincial authorities move to assess the risks and begin the screening of visitors travelling within the country.
The Governor of Buriram, Thatchakorn Hatthathayakul, on Monday announced screening for all visitors to the province, both Thai and foreigners, as it ramps up its defences.
All those who enter the province must self-quarantine and all public gatherings are cancelled. This encompasses any gathering with more than 50 people.