The government is mobilising to speed up the vaccination drive with reports of a rising level of infection among the general population and workers. A key priority is to protect the kingdom’s manufacturing sector which is supporting the last engine of the Thai economy that is still performing which is the export sector. A Ministry of Labour survey of 70,000 workers has found that 1.4% were already infected with Covid-19 with heightened fears after the 50% more infectious Indian variant or strain has been detected at a building site in Bangkok.
As the virus crisis spreads in the kingdom, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on Friday said that, from June 7th, all foreigners can register for the Covid-19 vaccine at their local hospitals. It comes as the government is also moving to inoculate millions of salaried workers within the Social Security system as a priority especially in key manufacturing provinces as the massive third wave of the virus threatens the economy’s base and the last engine of growth as the country’s economic prospects darken.
The government, on Friday, confirmed again that foreigners will have access to vaccine shots as the kingdom prepares to ramp up its vaccination efforts in June and July with continuing high levels of infection and increasing fears that the Indian variant of the virus may find its way into the main population centres particularly in Bangkok.
Thailand is engaged in a deadly battle against the virus and time with the goal of vaccinating the country’s population to achieve herd immunity while preserving the economy and even aiming for a reopening to foreign tourism at the end of this year.
Longterm effects of closure to foreign tourism now impacting the current account surplus as a ministry official assures expats of the green light for the jab
The long term effects of the kingdom’s closure to foreign tourism are being felt increasingly in economic terms and particularly in the country’s current account surplus.
‘Thailand will not be safe until everyone is vaccinated,’ Mr Natapanu Nopakun, a Deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters on Friday as he hosted a Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) press briefing.
He was paraphrasing earlier comments and an assurance on May 6th from Dr Opas Karnkawinpong of the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health who said ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe,’ to repeated media questioning.
The confusion, at that time, was caused when Reuters reported a Ministry of Public Health spokesperson on May 4th suggesting that there were no plans to vaccinate foreigners in the short term as ministry officials found themselves locked in a strenuous struggle with the disease which is ravaging Bangkok’s inner city.
Ministry official confirms hospitals and medical facilities ready to receive foreigners after June 7th
On Friday, Mr Natapanu confirmed that foreigners will be able to register after June 7th at their local hospitals and medical centres.
This week, the government also announced a new ‘Mor Prompt’ online application for foreigners which is in development to register for the vaccine.
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Some foreigners have already registered with their hospital and indeed many also in key tourist hotspots have received their vaccination doses but the numbers are quite negligible.
Many foreigners interested in Moderna product
The announcement also comes amid confusion as the government negotiates to find new sources of vaccines and ways to speed up the vaccination effort with mixed results.
The Minister Of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, has in recent days announced that 10 to 20 million vaccine doses from Pfizer BioNTech will land in Thailand either in the third or fourth quarter while the Private Hospital Association has promised a package of two Moderna jabs for private patients at a cost of ฿3,000 to ฿3,500 including clinical costs, insurance and tax which is something that has piqued the interest of expats and foreigners in Thailand but which is coming relatively late.
The latest reports suggest that it will be October before the US vaccine is made available in Thailand.
Moderna is the fourth vaccine to be approved in Thailand alongside Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson with the Pfizer jab and perhaps the Russian Sputnik vaccine expected to be added to the list during the year.
PM forced to rollback walk-in vaccine plans
This week, the PM was forced to roll back plans for walk-in vaccines after officials feared that too many people would end up congregating in enclosed spaces and would be angered if there was confusion over registration information and access to vaccine doses.
The government has said that it is now committed to vaccinating 70% of the population by the end of 2021 but currently, according to the University of Oxford’s tracking data, the figure, at best, is 2% or 2.3 million doses.
Stinging public criticism of Minister of Public Health Anutin but opposition politicians mute their commentary as they accept the country is in crisis
It has led to stinging public criticism of the government and in particular the minister, Mr Anutin, online.
At the same time, there is also a feeling among the public that the country is in a crisis and, therefore, excess rancour and criticism at this point could be counterproductive.
Opposition figures in the last week have been careful to constructively criticise the government while also providing whatever assistance is possible especially in Bangkok.
Vaccines, despite reported and mounting scepticism among some Thais, are seen as the only way out.
Minister of Labour is tasked with vaccinating 9.3 million salaried workers especially in key provinces
On Friday also, Minister of Labour Suchart Chomklin announced that all 9.3 million salaried or tax-paying workers employed under Section 33 of the Social Security Act will receive vaccine jabs as a priority in June and July through their employers.
The minister called on employers to play their part in liaising with the Social Security Office in the drive.
Fears for the key manufacturing sector in 9 provinces with the Indian variant having been detected within a Bangkok building site with dozens of cases confirmed
The reason for this is that Thailand can ill afford to see the virus infect places of work and in particular factories in key production provinces such as Chonburi, Rayong, Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani.
The rising fear is that workplaces could be infected in the same way we have seen the battle against the virus unfolding in key urban centres in Bangkok, with the latest being a building site where the even more infectious Indian variant has already been detected.
The Ministry of Public Health has just confirmed dozens of infections linked with the Indian strain at the Italian-Thai Development Plc site in the Laksi district of Bangkok including 21 Thai nationals, 10 from Myanmar and 5 from Cambodia.
There are now 35 serious infection clusters in Bangkok according to Dr Opas Karnkawinpong of the Department of Disease Control.
Move to allow prisoners early release
The virus is also raging among the country’s prison population.
The outbreak in Corrections Department facilities throughout the kingdom but especially in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, has led authorities to consider a mass release programme to reduce the overcrowded prison population.
Salaried employees in companies will also be vaccinated from June 7th by the Social Security Office working with employers and a network of hospitals
Minister of Labour Suchart Chomklin, on Friday, also said that June 7th will see inoculations for employees especially in key provinces going ahead.
He highlighted that there was no need to register through the Mor Prom vaccine app and that the government would administer the vaccination process in cooperation with employers.
The government fears that the current outbreak if it spreads among manufacturing concerns, could put at risk the last growth engine of the economy which exists where the kingdom is still targeting 5 to 7% growth this year.
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This would be catastrophic in economic and financial terms right now with an already extremely challenging economic position to hand.
Faith in common sense and practicality over technology as government officials get more real
It also shows that the government is finding that technology, in some respects, can also be counterproductive as the urgency of the current, dangerous predicament is beginning to focus minds.
A key feature of the government’s campaign at the outset of its fight against the virus was to use technology in an effort to make the population more familiar with digital applications.
Ministry of Labour working with employers and hospitals to get salaried workers vaccinated quickly especially in Bangkok and industrial provinces
Mr Suchart told reporters that 20 hospitals in Bangkok were designated by the Social Security Office as partners to administer jabs to workers in the city including the Greater Bangkok area.
He indicated that there were 3.7 million workers under the Section 33 programme in the city and that the government was targeting at least 2.4 million or 63% for vaccination in June and July.
He emphasised that this programme was specific to such workers and was independent of a separate campaign being run by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) aimed at the general public and which right now is prioritising areas of highest infection.
60% of workers in the kingdom’s manufacturing provinces to be vaccinated by the end of July
The Labour minister said that nine key provinces linked with the manufacturing sector including Pathum Thani, Chonburi, Ayutthaya and Rayong were being prioritised and would see over 60% of the workers in the targeted region vaccinated by the end of July.
He highlighted the government’s concern over the threat posed by pointing out that in recent testing of 70,000 social security workers employed under Section 33, no less than 1,000 or 1.4% were found to already be infected with the virus.