On March 11th, the Cambodian Health Ministry confirmed that the UK variant of Covid-19 was highly active and prevalent in the capital city of Phnom Penh. This potentially bigger and more dangerous third wave is happening as the focus shifts to vaccines as the only effective response to the pandemic which looks set to inflict even further economic woe on Thailand.

Bars and entertainment venues in 41 provinces will be closed by Prime Ministerial order from Friday in Thailand for two weeks as a top virologist has revealed that the third wave, which has erupted in Bangkok and is spreading throughout the kingdom, is being driven by the UK variant of the disease. Dr Yong Poovorawan, the top Chulalongkorn University virologist, has questioned how the virus has managed to enter Thailand because of the country’s state quarantine system but there are indications that it has arrived from Cambodia. This poses a tremendous challenge to the government’s efforts to defeat the Covid-19 virus and revive the economy this year.

Bars in 41 provinces are to be closed for two weeks from Friday by order of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (right) who has said it is too late to call off the Songkran holidays and has vowed to push forward with the vaccination programme. Top virologist Dr Yong Poovorawan (bottom left) while urging a ramped up vaccination drive, has indicated that the dominant Covid-19 virus strain behind the latest third wave emanating from Bangkok, is the UK variant with indications that it may have come via Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

The Thai Prime Minister, on Friday, will sign an order closing all pubs and entertainment venues in 41 provinces across Thailand including Bangkok as the third wave of the Covid-19 virus which has emerged from bars and nightlife spots in Bangkok gains traction and sweeps the country.

It comes as Dr Yong Poovorawan of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University has confirmed that the current wave which is spreading faster than the previous ones, is being driven by the more infectious British variant of the Covid-19 virus.

Thailand could shortly see thousands of infections daily in what might be the largest virus wave so far, PM orders field hospitals to be readied for Bangkok

Dr Yong has warned that this could mean thousands of infections daily particularly with the oncoming Songkran festival in Thailand which the government has admitted is now too late to halt while efforts will be made to minimise the impact.

Infection numbers were over 400 on Tuesday, up by 60% in two days. These are expected to rise to thousands of infections per day.

This has led the Prime Minister to order the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Ministry of the Interior to prepare plans for field hospitals in the capital to cater for 3,000 people if the situation worsens in the densely populated metropolis.

Too late to call off the Songkran holiday

On Thursday, the Prime Minister admitted that it was too late to all of the holiday: ‘Whatever will be, will be. The reason is it’s a matter that involves a huge number of people. The government will have to try to cope with that later,’ he said.

‘Of course, we can order a new lockdown and make everyone stay home. But the question is will anyone be happy with that?

The Prime Minister said that emerging waves of the virus worldwide were even affecting countries that manufacture their own vaccines and consequently hampering output.

10 times less prepared than last year against a far more infectious virus strain says top virologist

Dr Yong estimates that, defensively speaking, the population is 10 times more susceptible to the virus this year as it was last year due to efforts to restart the economy.

This combined with the more infectious variant which is now being passed by young people predominantly. 

Dr Yong revealed that this virus strain, technically know as B.1.1.7., is more likely to be contained in the throat areas of those infected and is a risk to elderly people and those with underlying conditions.

Vaccination is the only way to defeat the Covid-19 virus and must be speeded up says Dr Yong with only 0.4% of people inoculated at this time 

The top medic has again urged that the Thai government speed up its vaccination programme and is recommending that authorities set a target of 300,000 vaccinations per day which would still mean the kingdom will take over a year to reach herd immunity.

‘If Thailand can administer 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines per day, it will take about three years to achieve effective herd immunity against the pandemic, while if up to 300,000 doses are given a day, it will take only one year to achieve that goal,’ he said on Wednesday.

Currently, only 0.4% of the Thai population has received even one vaccine dose. That’s 323,989 doses to 274,354 people.

Vaccines do deliver herd immunity

The doctor acknowledged that vaccinated people may still contract Covid-19 but it is far less serious and less infectious.

In this way, he assured the public that induced immunity for the disease is possible and in the government’s hands.

Dr Yong pointed to the fall-off in infection rates in the UK where over 31 million people have received at least one dose now or nearly 46% of the population.

Prime Minister says plans to restart the economy will still be pushed forward along with the vaccine drive

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister, General Prayut said the country would still press ahead with its vaccination campaign and plans to restart the economy but measures would be required to protect the population.

Economic damage already being billed

It comes as economists are already declaring even this initial outbreak or start to the third wave will wipe ฿100 billion off domestic spending this year.

This could now torpedo any hopes for strong economic growth in 2021 as the second quarter may also, like the first, see the failure of efforts to further economic growth this year.

‘The government is trying its very best to strike a balance between the need to stimulate the economy through tourism promotion and containing the spread of the outbreak,’ said the Prime Minister on Thursday as he faces up the challenge.

Top virologist surprised that the UK variant has landed in Thailand. Herd immunity must be achieved

Dr Yong has expressed surprise after lab results showed that those infected in the emerging Thong Lor cluster are suffering from the UK variant of the disease.

He also warned that it may not be possible to liberalise and boost incoming foreign tourism to revive the economy without achieving effective herd immunity.

‘The reason is that if there are so many new cases of Covid-19, economic stimulus through the promotion of tourism won’t work as nobody would want to travel to an epidemic zone.’

He also questioned how the UK variant had arrived in Thailand despite the mandatory quarantine system still in place since last year.

‘I have no idea how it slipped into Thailand, and through our quarantine programme,’ he said. 

Finger of suspicion points to Cambodia

The top virologist, however, did point out that he was aware of the UK variant being detected among Chinese and Indian visitors to Cambodia in February.

On March 11th last, a spokesperson for the Cambodian Health Ministry, Or Vandine, confirmed that the UK variant was highly active in Phnom Penh.

‘The fast-transmitting UK variant is now active in Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh,’ he said.

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Further reading:

Fears that a 3rd wave of Covid-19 may have begun in Thailand with top doctors raising the alarm

Centre for Covid-19 announces ‘bubble and seal’ measures after October 1st with quarantine lifted

PM leads the way as Thailand aims to return to normal by pushing forward its vaccine drive using AstraZeneca

Top docs say vaccine jabs are safe after Thai PM’s jab is cancelled for the second time in two weeks

Vaccination campaign begins in early morning jab event but hopes for more foreign tourists set back

Economy to rebound as the year progresses driven by exports and a return of mass foreign tourism

Door closing on quick foreign tourism return as economic recovery is delayed to the end of 2022

Phuket’s plan to self vaccinate on hold as Interior Ministry orders private sector out of vaccine deals

Top Thai official says vaccine passports are legally a matter for the WHO under international law

Top virologist Dr Yong defends the use of the Sinovac vaccine to protect frontline medical staff at high risk

Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector

Fact – only 6,556 visitors arrived in Thailand last month compared to 3.95 million in December 2019

Desperate foreign tourism business concerns are clinging to straws as they try to survive the crisis

Strict entry criteria to remain as officials await clarity on the medical status of vaccinated people