BANGKOK: The government’s emergency response centre said it saw commuting on Saturday at 40% of normal figures and wanted to see that down to 10% to defeat the virus spread. Incidences of infection are now higher outside Bangkok with areas of heightened concern linked to the now shut entertainment industry.

The latest figures from the Covid 19 emergency centre in Thailand which show two new deaths but indicate that the government’s emergency response has, at least, established some control over the outbreak even though it is early days yet. A large number of infections, even in the best-case scenario, are expected between now and the middle of April.

The latest updates brought with it two more deaths and 136 new infections including 21 foreigners. The press was briefed on Monday after 1 pm by doctors from the Disease Control Department of the Ministry of Public Health including Dr Anupong Suchariyakul. The information shows Thailand still has a chance of maintaining control over the epidemic under the country’s state of emergency although even government spokespeople are predicting a large rise in infections by mid April.

Thailand announced 136 new infections with two more additional deaths. The latest update was provided after 1pm by doctors working with Thailand’s Disease Control Department at the Ministry of Public Health including Dr Anupong Suchariyakul. 21 of the new infections were among foreigners.

It follows comments by the Supreme Commander of the Thai Armed Forces and Covid 19 administration security supremo, General Pornpipat Benyasri, last week indicating that a figure of 2,000 infections in the coming week or so would indicate success for Thailand’s current social distancing efforts.

The security chief also indicated that this might obviate the necessity for a 24-hour curfew or lockdown under this emergency.

Two more deaths, a Yala man and Bangkok woman

Today’s figures, unfortunately, include the deaths of two more people, a 54-year-old man from Yala and a 56-year-old woman from Bangkok. This brings the total number of deaths in Thailand to 9.

There are reported to be 23 people requiring intensive care fighting the virus in its most extreme form while the average age of those infected is relatively low at 40 years.

Top government official argues that there may still be 17,000 infections by mid-April

However, on Monday, Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, a spokesman for the Covid 19 administration centre still warned that the country could be facing up to 17,000 infections by mid-April based on current modelling by its disease control experts and the compliance rate by the public which the centre only estimates to date at 50%.

Commuting still at 40% of normal this Saturday – not acceptable to officials at Covid 19 emergency centre

This was supported, said Dr Taweesin, by figures from transit authorities on Saturday which showed that internal commuting in the kingdom was still at 40%. 

He said that for the social distancing measures in the country to prove successful, this figure must fall to 10%.

Dr Taweesin explained that if there is 80% cooperation or compliance, then Thailand can hope to contain the infection number to under 8,000 by mid-April.

Figures quoted by the government based on expert advice and accurate data says top doctor

Dr Taweesin said the current figures being advised by the government and its spokespeople were based on expert analysis using undistorted data and models.

He rejected any suggestion that the numbers being quoted by officials were creating confusion. He also dismissed a range of outlandish figures and predictions for deaths thrown at him by some media questioners.

The disease control expert said the government’s figures had been worked on to advise the emergency leadership at this time.

New infections now coming from outside Bangkok

One notable facet of the new data is that the growth in infections has now swung to the provinces outside of Bangkok.

Despite this, the areas of infection still of most concern to the government are those associated with foreigners.

This pattern was highlighted and outlined weeks ago by an expert emergency committee which produced a key report that was used for guidance by the government before the emergency.

Tourism areas emerging as centres of infection

The areas that have emerged as places of heightened concern mirror the early projections of that report except for Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. 

On Monday, the Covid 19 administration centre highlighted certain areas that are being kept under close watch. They include the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, Chonburi, Phuket, Krabi and Ubon Ratchathani in the northeast. 

The four southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla and Yala have also emerged as a hotspot. One of the reasons for this is a cluster of infections associated with a religious pilgrimage to Malaysia.

Another hotspot is Sak Kaeo province because of its proximity to Poipet in Cambodia where many Thais visited and also worked prior to the emergency.

Phuket now under nightly curfew with 2 foreigners among 9 new cases announced on Monday

A key hotspot is Phuket where a nightly curfew is now in effect.

On Monday, the island reported 9 new infections, two of them foreigners.

One was a 35-year-old Canadian teacher at an international school on the popular resort island. He only came down sick with the virus on March 25th. He had, before this, visited the Patpong entertainment district.

The second was a 42-year-old French tourist who arrived in Thailand on March 9th and became sick on March 18th. He was also a visitor to the popular but now closed tourist haunt on the island.

Many of the Thais infected in Phuket, including 6 women either worked in the entertainment centre in Patpong providing massage services or the tourist trade. 

One Thai man was a flower seller who operated in the nightlife area.

Further reading:

Still a chance to avoid a curfew or lockdown if the public stays at home over the coming 7 days to quell virus

24-hour curfew in the works as the government puts curbs on national travel with checkpoints on roads

Emergency centre led by the Prime Minister takes power on Thursday to fight the virus in Thailand

Minor Group boss calls on Prayuth to take decisive action to lock down Thailand and protect people’s lives

Authorities ready to control movement and lockdown as public is urged not to leave Bangkok

Government declares a state of emergency with sweeping powers to curb the spread of the virus