The Bank of Thailand has said there is sufficient liquidity in the financial system while the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has warned the planned reopening of Phuket to foreign tourists on July 1st is now in doubt due to a lack of vaccines and possible local opposition.
Thai authorities are still hoping that the current third wave of the virus will be brought under control within two weeks and the wave will have subsided by the end of May. It comes as hospital beds in Bangkok and Chiang Mai have become scarce with the Ministry of Public Health considering allowing certain groups to self treat at home and reaching out to the hotel sector to create ‘hospitels’. At the same time, the severity of the symptoms of the British variant is being examined with more critically ill patients and more people being placed on ventilators.
Thai medical experts are studying the symptoms of the latest virus wave which is being powered by the UK variant of the disease that has spread faster than previous outbreaks.
They are investigating the possibility that symptoms of the new variant may be more severe although there is no definitive evidence to suggest this as of yet.
Infection numbers drop on Monday but deaths from the virus are beginning to tick up with more critical
Thailand recorded a record number of 1,767 infections on Sunday but the figure was lower on Monday at 1,390 although deaths have begun to tick up and are expected to rise further.
On Monday, there were three further fatalities with concern expressed at the case of a 56-year-old barman who worked in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok and who died in the Prakhon Chai area of Buriram province on a visit home to his family for Songkran.
Thai public urged to stay at home and businesses being encouraged to switch to a work from home model
Authorities are now counting on the cooperation of the Thai public to stay at home where possible and for business concerns to operate a work at home policy.
Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, the Director of the Department of Disease Control, said over the weekend that if this cooperation is forthcoming, the number of infections may begin to fall off within two weeks and the current wave may be brought under control sometime in May.
‘We’re concerned about community transmission in schools and workplaces. The work-from-home policy is important as we expect people to return to work on Monday. Please avoid gatherings, sharing of items and eating together,’ he urged.
Numbers being hospitalised is growing in key areas as are those being put on ventilators
He revealed the number of patients hospitalised is growing with 128 being now in a critical condition while 28 have had to be put on ventilators.
It comes as this third wave is putting pressure on the public health system with a scarcity of hospital beds being reported particularly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai which are emerging as the hardest-hit areas by the virus this time around.
Plans being considered to let some people self treat at home where the risk of transmission is low
On Friday, the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul and his deputy, Sathit Pitutecha convened with key officials at the Public Health Ministry to consider allowing patients with the disease who test positive and who live alone or can be isolated at home to be treated there.
The ministry was considering issuing guidance manuals to these patients in a new initiative to cope with the escalating situation.
However, in the last 24 hours, officials have further clarified that this initiative is really meant to cater for patients who may be waiting for a hospital bed.
The minister has stressed that the policy remains that those who contract the disease are admitted to hospital where possible as this is a key measure to reduce further onward transmission.
Chiang Mai soccer player and his family find beds in Bangkok and Nonthaburi after testing positive
The story of a well-known footballer, Boworn Tapla, who plays for Chiang Mai United football club illustrates the problem.
The player tested positive on April 12th and had difficulties locating a bed in the northern city. Then he was informed that his wife and two daughters had also been infected.
Through the intervention of the chairman of his club and other senior officials, his wife and daughter were accommodated at the Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health in Bangkok while he found a bed at the Navamin 9 Hospital in Nonthaburi.
Shortage of capacity in the private sector with some Bangkok hospitals suspending testing at the outset
Chalerm Harnphanich of the Private Hospital Association (PHA) admits that there is a shortage of beds in the private hospital system.
Many hospitals in Bangkok, for some weeks now, have stopped offering Covid-19 tests as they are not in a position to offer beds to those found to be infected.
However, authorities suggest that extra beds have been found in the short term and all infected patients can be accommodated provided they are not too demanding about comfort and the services on offer.
Bangkok local authority still has spare beds
Over the weekend, a spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, revealed that about half or just over 4,000 of the emergency complement of 9,183 beds were still available with more spaces being made available at the Bang Khun Thian Geriatric Hospital and two military facilities.
The Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin, has also instructed his ministry to reach out to the hotel sector to convert some into ‘hospitels’ to cope with this emergency.
Watch out for a shortness of breath
Meanwhile, as the Department of Disease Control at the ministry is examining the British variant and the symptoms presented by a growing number of patients, a doctor at Samut Prakan’s Ekachai Hospital, Dr Nittha Oer-areemitr, has come forward to warn the Thai public of the symptoms to expect from this new variant.
She said the symptoms of the disease generally appear in five to eight days and start with coughing and shortness of breath.
‘Patients usually have the abovementioned symptoms after they have been infected for five to eight days,’ she explained. ‘Also, the patients’ phlegm is very sticky and sometimes contains blood.’
She warned that the disease is particularly dangerous for those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and significant obesity.
She pointed out that a sore throat and diarrhoea often signalled the onset of a more serious condition.
Outlook for the economy is highly uncertain but there is no doubt it is a very significant setback
The Bank of Thailand said on Monday that the current wave has thrown Thailand’s economic outlook into uncertain territory.
The bank has, in recent weeks, already accepted that growth for 2021 will be lower than 3% but some key officials have even suggested a sharp contraction for the year being possible while other economists are warning that Thailand will, at least, see a second quarter of contraction in 2021.
Deputy Governor Ronadol Numnonda told the press that the bank was monitoring the situation and was also trying to mediate between debtors and retail lenders to help firms get through this new crisis.
฿350 billion fund to assist business but some observers say the government is under pressure
He pointed to ฿350 billion earmarked by the government to assist business with short term loans and other measures such as an asset warehousing scheme although some commentators are concerned about the growing tightness in the government’s financial position.
The deputy governor said that liquidity in the financial system was sufficient but did acknowledge that there were some problems in areas of the economy which have been cut off from cash flow.
Phuket reopening on July 1st and relaxed quarantine rules may have to be deferred due to the outbreak
On Monday, the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, also warned that the July 1st reopening for Phuket may be in jeopardy due to a lack of vaccine doses and potential local opposition if herd immunity is not achieved.
He also revealed that the plan to reduce the quarantine period for incoming visitors from this month may be also put on hold.
‘The plan to reduce the quarantine period for vaccinated tourists from this month and launching the Phuket sandbox on July 1 may not happen if there is opposition,’ he said.
He did, however, underline that the government is still committed to reopening the kingdom’s vital and highly lucrative foreign tourism industry in 2021 although the prospects of this have certainly dimmed in the last few weeks.