Thailand is lagging behind most countries in Southeast Asia in its vaccination effort as it has been plunged into a third wave of the virus which one Bangkok institute researcher suggested this week may not be brought under control for 4 to 6 months based on the testimony of epidemiology experts.

The scale of the health and economic challenges facing Thai officials and the government is growing as the country recorded its highest death rate on Monday and with fears that this third wave of infection, which has dwarfed everything since the pandemic began, may take longer than anticipated to bring under control with one think tank expert, in recent days, suggesting four to six months. One of Thailand’s top doctors on Monday warned of a ‘real crisis’ now in the making as the public health service scrambles to cope with rising infections and hospitalisations from the disease.

Dr Prasit Watanapa made the pronouncement on Monday as concern is growing that the kingdom’s vaccination programme is too far off while the 3rd wave appears to be taking hold in urban centres particularly in Bangkok where the army is installing a 300-bed field hospital in the Klong Toey area of the city.

A leading Thai medical expert is raising the alarm that the kingdom could be facing an unprecedented crisis as the death toll from the Covid-19 virus hit a new high on Monday with 31 people reported dead in Thailand andwith new infections rising to 2,041 cases.

Nearly 30,000 people have been hospitalised with the disease with a surge in critically ill patients and those on ventilators.

It is being reported that while infection rates are going down in many parts of Thailand, the rate of infection in the inner city areas of Bangkok is causing deep concern among officials at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) with many new infections coming from people who are living in close proximity to family members.

In the last few days, Nonarit Bisonyabut of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) has suggested that, based on the expert opinion of top epidemiologists, the third wave of the virus could take between four and six months to bring under control.

50% of cases linked to the infectious UK strain as Britain returned to normal over the weekend with football matches and live concerts

The media also heard that 50% of the cases in this new more deadly third wave, driven by a far faster rate of infection, are linked with the B117 strain of the disease first detected in Britain.

Over the weekend, life in Britain appeared to be getting back to normal with fans attending football matches again and a music concert taking place without masks and social distancing after the United Kingdom managed to vaccinate well over 60% of the population and over 90% of those over 70 years of age.

Thailand’s failure to prioritise vaccine procurement has left it trailing behind Southeast Asian countries

The experience in the UK, perhaps the most successful story in the world right now when it comes to Covid-19 recovery, shows clearly where Thailand went wrong in not prioritising the purchase and distribution of vaccines at an earlier stage and targeting a greater variety of producers and suppliers.

Thailand now lags behind many countries in Southeast Asia where Singapore and Indonesia lead the way followed by the Philippines and Malaysia. 

Even Cambodia has more people vaccinated at this time with the most recent reports showing that 2.33 million have been vaccinated or 7.1% of the population.

Only 2% of people vaccinated in Thailand

Thailand over the weekend pronounced that it had vaccinated 2% of the population although it is not clear if these are first doses or people who have been vaccinated with their first and second shots.

Populous Klong Toey area of Bangkok with slums and market has become a Covid-19 infection hotspot

One of the areas hardest hit by the new wave of inner-city infection is Bangkok’s Klong Toey district where a spokesman for the Thai army, on Monday, Colonel Chatrapee Poonsawat confirmed a field hospital containing 300 beds was being erected by the military.

The military facility is being established at a warehouse facility at Klong Toey Port.

In April, the populous district on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok with over one hundred thousand residents, known for its slums and popular markets, reported 304 cases.

‘Real crisis’ may be developing

‘If the figures do not go down and instead continue to rise, that means we are moving towards the real crisis stage,’ Dr Prasit Watanapa, the Dean of Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University said at a daily briefing at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in Bangkok.

Expats over 60 and with underlying conditions can register for free Covid vaccinations in June & July

He urged the public to seek out a vaccine and to continue to wear masks at all times while complying with protection measures announced by authorities.

Key adviser to the PM on the disease

Dr Prasit is one of Thailand’s leading medical practitioners and a key adviser to Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha. 

He has treated patients with the disease at the internationally renowned hospital including 59-year-old Samut Sakhon Governor, Veerasak Vijitsaengsri, whose condition at one stage was extremely serious and critical after becoming infected in December 2020.

Samut Sakhon Governor in a ‘critical’ condition after developing a lung infection from Covid-19 virus

The top official was released from Siriraj Hospital in mid-March after making a full recovery.

As part of his treatment, he received a dose of the Sinovac vaccine which reportedly strengthened his immune system against the disease.

No access to vaccines for most people

However, the problem for most Thais at this time is that there is no immediate access to vaccines although it is reported that the government may prioritise key areas at risk with the limited amounts of vaccines now being imported.

This was a tactic used successfully in the 2nd wave outbreak in Samut Sakhon province near Bangkok.

Registration process for the 2nd vaccination phase aimed at 16 million adults in June and July

Over the weekend, authorities began a registration process for the second wave of the vaccination drive aimed at 16 million people which will take place in June and July with nearly all the vaccines for this phase, targeted at over 60s and those with underlying conditions being provided for by the Siam Bioscience facility in Pathum Thani.

The plant has been approved by the government to manufacture the AstraZeneca doses on licence from the US Swedish firm.

On Monday, some expats in Thailand, even those with pink Thai national ID cards, were reporting problems registering for the vaccine process through the online Mor Prom (Doctors Ready) application while foreigners over 60 and with existing conditions, over the weekend, were advised to contact their local hospitals as an alternative which applies to most foreigners who do not have a Thai ID.

Criticism of the government for being too reliant on two vaccines as prospects for the country dim

Critics of the government and some professionals are expressing concern that the kingdom is too reliant on two vaccines particularly as the vaccination process has now become critical to the country’s chances of averting further crises both from the disease and economically as the outlook for Thailand, on several fronts, is diverging from other countries also hit by the crisis but which are expected to recover towards the end of this year.

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) briefing on Monday heard from spokesman Dr Apisamai Srisangson that there were urban outbreaks of concern now in Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan.

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Further reading:

Expats over 60 and with underlying conditions can register for free Covid vaccinations in June & July

PM Prayut hands power back to the CCSA to find 100 million vaccine doses to defeat Covid-19

Thailand scrambles to procure more vaccines as infections and deaths from Covid-19 jump sharply

Officials turn to hotels for more scarce hospital beds but say the 3rd wave can be defeated in May

Still time to avoid lockdown says Health Minister as 3rd virus wave dwarfs all infections to date

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

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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

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

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