BANGKOK: The number of infections since last week has been rising with daily records as Thai PM consulted on Thursday with leading medical experts. It feels like we are heading into a new stage in Thailand’s war against the Covid 19 virus enemy. Measures announced on Wednesday and Thursday will make flying to Thailand from any foreign country now very difficult and also impose stiff responsibilities on already beleaguered airlines still flying into the kingdom.
Thailand announced another record number of infections on Thursday with 60 new cases as fears grow that the kingdom may be entering a situation of widespread transmission. This will, according to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha, trigger a lockdown. The last few days have seen many Thai nationals returning to the kingdom anticipating such a move. In the meantime, the Kingdom has introduced restrictive measures now affecting all flights into Thailand requiring passengers, both Thai and foreign, to have valid medical certificates stating they are free from the virus.
The Thai army moved on Wednesday to close some border crossings with Malaysia while on Saturday and Sunday, new, more onerous requirements will apply to many passengers from all countries before they board a flight to Thailand.
These include a medical certificate and insurance to the value of $100,000 against the Covid 19 virus.
Thailand, on Thursday, announced its biggest rise in infections so far at 60 new cases bringing the total number to 272.
Details of the cases were announced by Dr Suwannachai Watanayingcharoenchai of the Disease Control Department at the Ministry of Public Health.
Yesterday, announcing another record number of infections, the top ministry official warned of a ‘vast and uncontrollable’ epidemic if the current situation persists.
Latest batch of infections indicate more complexity
This latest batch of infections includes a number of extended contacts from the boxing stadium cluster in Bangkok and entertainment venues.
There are also five infections linked with a group who visited Malaysia recently for a religious festival.
The list included nine Thai nationals returning from other countries and three who have been in contact with foreigners in Thailand. Four more are under investigation
The complexity of profiling the daily number of infections is growing along with the numbers.
The danger of crowds and entertainment venues
Dr Suwannachai highlighted that 57 new cases since March 12th are linked to entertainment venues including those infected and their families.
This is in addition to 52 cases associated with boxing events since March 14th.
The medical expert is urging people to exercise caution about visiting places of entertainment and being in crowded places at this time. This is based on the pattern of infection the ministry has observed.
‘This is mainly why the Public Health Ministry advises people to avoid crowded places, which are high-risk areas,’ he emphasised
Thursday’s rise in infections was the largest to date and follows other records on Wednesday and Monday.
More provinces shut down bars and entertainment
All bars and places of entertainment were closed in Bangkok and Pattaya on Tuesday. These have since been joined by Phuket, Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani, Samut Prakan and a growing list of provinces as governors assess the risk and call time on the nightlife.
One notable exception, so far, is Hua Hin.
PM meets with leading doctors at Government House
On Thursday, it was reported that Thai Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan ocha, had met leading physicians and medical experts at Government House.
Those at the meeting included Professor Emeritus Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, a former Minister of Public Health and former President of Mahidol University, Professor Dr Udom Kachintorn, former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, Professor Dr Yong Poovorawan, an expert virologist at Chulalongkorn University and Professor Dr Amorn Leelarasamee, President of the Medical Association.
The meeting was also attended by Professor Dr Somsri Pausawasdi, President of the Medical Council.
Chulalongkorn University expert says widespread transmission is certain as infections take off
Medical experts are advising the government to strengthen measures to combat the spread of the virus even at this time.
In recent days, Dr Yong Poovorawan of Chulalongkorn University has warned that the kingdom is almost certainly facing a widespread breakout of the disease.
In the meantime, Thailand has begun closing border crossings with Malaysia after the country’s southern neighbour closed its border except for Malaysian nationals going home.
The Prime Minister warned on Wednesday that a Phase 3 breakout would mean a lockdown of the country.
New blanket travel requirement as the list of high-risk countries has also been extended
Medical certifications will be required from Sunday from all passengers regardless of the country of origin when arriving in Thailand.
On Thursday, the PM also confirmed that from Sunday, health insurance requirements will also be required on a blanket basis.
From Saturday, the number of countries deemed high risk and from which medical certificates and appropriate health insurance will be required, will rise from currently 4 countries and 2 territories to 15 countries.
The new measures were emphasised again on Thursday by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand after initial reports filtered through over the weekend to be greeted with disbelief by many foreigners seeking urgent clarification.
There has been confusion but on Thursday the Thai Prime Minister made his understanding of the position clear.
‘We are blocking infection from coming into the country. That is why people need medical certificates and health insurance to enter Thailand,’ Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha told the press.
The announcement is still causing consternation online as foreigners, contemplating or arranging travel to Thailand, struggle to digest the news.
These measures are being implemented through the airline system and will cause major disruption including perhaps, the cancellations of many flights and trips. It may also prompt airlines to further suspend routes into Thailand for now.
Previous announcements in respect of South Korea brought clarification later in respect of Thai nationals
It should also be noted that, right now, this new passenger requirement applies to both foreigners and Thai nationals alike.
However, when this was first announced in respect of South Korea some weeks ago, an official later clarified that it was an error to suggest that Thai nationals would require health insurance to return home.
Of course, before this clarification came through, many Thai nationals had already been turned away at South Korean airports.
Civil Aviation Authority is enforcing the new measures through airlines at point of departure
The announcement was made by Chula Sukmanop who is the Governor of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand. This was followed by the prime minster’s statement on Thursday.
It means that, for flights from Saturday, the former classification of 11 countries that were deemed places of local transmission has now been raised to places of high-risk as the virus epicentre has moved to the West. However, from Sunday a banket implementation of the requirement will apply.
The only alteration is for Japan where the provisions only apply to 8 key cities.
These are Aichi, Chiba, Hokkaido, Karagawa, Kyoto, Okinawa, Osaka, Tokyo and Wakayama. The provisions still apply to Hong Kong and Macau.
The more stringent requirements will, on Saturday, be applied to the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan (8 cities only listed above), Iran, South Korea, China, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.
From Sunday, all flights will have to comply with the new requirements following clarification the PM today.
Those boarding flights for Thailand must present documentation showing $100,000 health insurance cover against the Covid 19 virus
This will mean that from Saturday, anyone boarding these flights must present to their airline confirmation of health insurance specifically covering the Covid 19 infection for up to $100,000 in addition to the appropriate medical certificate.
From Sunday, all international travellers, regardless of where the flight departs, will be required to provide a medical certificate issued within 72 hours stating that they are healthy and specifically free from the virus. The health insurance requirement also applies.
Those who cannot comply may not board their flights from Saturday if the required documents are not seen
The Governor warned that passengers who do not comply will not be allowed to board their flights to Thailand.
He also pointed out that airlines will bear responsibility for implementing these regulations and will be subject to disease control measures when flights arrive in Bangkok.
The Governor asked that airlines also make sure that seating arrangements are made to keep passengers at a proper distance and to disinfect all aircraft before setting flight for Thailand.
Failure to implement both these new measures would mean that the airlines will become responsible for the cost and care of any of their passengers arriving in Thailand who subsequently require medical treatment for the infection.
Quarantine, smartphone surveillance and daily reporting of health status still required for 14 days
All arrivals from these countries will still be required to self-quarantine and use the smartphone applications provided by the Airports Authority of Thailand including free SIM cards for tracking.
The address in Thailand for any passengers travelling to the kingdom will also be required in advance.
All passengers must then update their health status daily to the Ministry of Public Health or face a fine of ฿100,000 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to 1 year.
Difficult to see how many travellers can comply
It is difficult to see how many people travelling to Thailand from Saturday and Sunday will be able to comply with the new regulation for health insurance.
Certainly, for those seeking health insurance for a holiday to Thailand to include coverage for the Covid 19 infection to a value of $100,000 would be practically impossible.
Given the developing situation in western countries right now, a proportion of flights originating from the 15 infected countries may have already been cancelled.
Many travellers to Thailand will have existing health cover including those from the United States or those who already have comprehensive insurance packages with private health insurance firms.
This would include many Thai expatriates who have retirement visas.
However, even here, there may be a gap in coverage for the costs of care associated with treating this infection including hospitalisation and respirator costs. It depends on the type of health policy.
It also remains to be seen how this will be implemented by the airlines from Saturday and Sunday onwards and what advice is given to passengers who have booked flights already in advance.
New regulations may soon be superseded by events in Thailand with a deteriorating disease spread situation
The implementation of this from Saturday and on a blanket, worldwide basis from Sunday, will prove challenging and may, of course, be superseded by events if the country goes into lockdown mode.
It is still not clear what sort of lockdown will be implemented in respect of borders, businesses and personal activities.
Certainly, we are already witnessing an exodus of Thai nationals from neighbouring countries in anticipation of a lockdown which may well see the country’s borders closed.
This week, one Thai tourism industry body called for the government to act swiftly to lock down Bangkok and key tourist areas from the rest of the country.
Chamnan Srisawat, the President of the Thai Federation of Provincial Tourist Associations, said such decisive action would help protect Thailand’s tourism even in the medium term and certainly in the long run.