Pattaya, on Wednesday, confirmed that it is also pushing ahead with reopening to vaccinated foreigners without quarantine although the Pattaya scheme appears to have several restrictions which are stipulated for foreign holidaymakers arriving at the well-known resort after October 1st next. In the meantime, Thailand, on Thursday, reported its largest death toll from the virus so far. 47 dead and 3,323 infections. It was the second day in a row of record deaths. It comes as the government navigates a challenging course of trying to contain the virus, vaccinate the population and reopen the country’s economy with a lurking threat from more dangerous variants of the disease from both India and South Africa which have already been detected.

A Thai Princess has launched an initiative to boost the kingdoms’ vaccination campaign with plans to import a second Chinese vaccine to be unveiled at a press conference on Friday. It follows some nervousness this week among the public and business leaders after hospitals were reported to have cancelled vaccination appointments for June. However, the good news for the government is that millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, in batches produced in Pathum Thani, have passed rigorous quality checks while the programme to reopen Phuket is turning into a success. A top health official there has confirmed that at least 45% of the residents on the island have already received a first vaccine dose and a test on a sample of residents at high risk from the disease showed the Chinese Sinovac vaccine is already 73% effective at reducing transmission and 83% with full inoculation.

The youngest sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 63-year-old Princess Chulabhorn has stepped in to help the country’s vaccination drive at this critical time through the Bangkok based Chulabhorn Royal Academy which has sought approval to import and distribute a second Chinese vaccine identified as Covilo and manufactured by Sinopharm. On Wednesday, Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, welcomed the move after first hearing about it when it was announced in the Royal Gazette.

Princess Chulabhorn, the youngest daughter of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit and sister of Thailand’s current monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, has made a personal intervention in the country’s efforts to vaccinate the population during the third wave of the virus crisis which on Wednesday and Thursday saw a record level of deaths from the disease for two days in a row.

On Wednesday, the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, who has been busy this week meeting with representatives of AstraZeneca to ensure the delivery of vaccines being manufactured by Siam Bioscience in Pathum Thani will be on schedule so Thailand’s vaccination campaign on a wider basis can proceed from June 7th, commented on the news of the royal intervention.

Chulabhorn Royal Academy which runs a hospital and research centre in Bangkok linked to the plan

The public health minister was unaware of the initiative by the 63 year old princess through her Chulabhorn Royal Academy which comprises a hospital and research centre in Bangkok before it was made public.

The announcement came with its publication on Tuesday night in the Royal Gazette and is to be followed by a press conference on Friday at the academy’s office on the Chaengwattana Road Soi 7 at which representatives of the Ministry of Public Health and the Food and Drug Administration will be present.

Press conference to outline plans for the importation and distribution of a second Chinese vaccine, Covilo

The press conference will deal with ‘Approaches to procure and import an alternative Covid-19 vaccine from Sinopharm’. 

It has since emerged that Bio Genetech Ltd, a firm authorised to import the second Chinese vaccine, has already submitted the documentation required by the Food and Drug Administration for the approval in Thailand of Sinopharm’s Covilo vaccine product which is expected to be forthcoming.

The vaccine, like Sinovac, has been shipped around the world with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan receiving the jab on March 18th last.

Minister learned of the initiative by the Princess when he read it in the Royal Gazette on Tuesday night

Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul said he only heard about the move himself when the statement was published in the Royal Gazette.

‘I just saw the announcement last night,’ said Minister Anutin. ‘But if it is a benefit to the country, we are ready.’

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam says the new Royal initiative will be legally compliant

Princess Chulabhorn is the Chairwoman of the Royal Academy. 

The Secretary-general of the institution, Nithi Mahanonda, issued a statement on social media in which he undertook that the body would comply with all necessary laws and regulations.

‘The Royal Academy will procure ‘alternative vaccines’ until vaccines that are produced in the country reach a capacity that can sufficiently protect against outbreaks,’ he explained.

It follows a statement from Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam who said that legal compliance would be a requirement.

‘But this does not mean it can do so freely, it will have to comply with related laws in full, such as seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration,’ the government’s top legal expert told the media.

Accepted the need for such initiatives at this time

The Deputy Prime Minister accepted the need for such initiatives at this time as the government struggles to ramp up the country’s vaccination drive with its plan in the short term appearing to hinge on delivery of AstraZeneca vaccine doses in volume from early June. 

The immediate requirement next month is 7 million AstraZeneca doses in addition to a scheduled delivery of 3 million Sinovac doses from China.

The public and key business leaders have become nervous as, over the last week, some hospitals are reported to have cancelled appointments made for June to administer vaccines to people who registered.

Federation of Thai Industries Chairman urged the government not to back off inoculation targets

Over the weekend, this drew a warning from Supant Mongkolsuthree, the Chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries who urged the government to hold firm to the plan as laid down in recent weeks.

‘We are especially worried about a shortage in June as the government plans to administer around 10 million doses a month,’ he explained.

Minister in crucial meeting with AstraZeneca on Tuesday with vaccines promised before June 7th

However, on Tuesday, Minister Anutin Charnvirakul held a meeting with AstraZeneca representatives. 

He was assured the company’s supply chain, which will supply Thailand as well as other parts of Southeast Asia, was about to swing into operation. 

Executives explained that delivery of regular amounts of the vaccine was about to begin after being processed through stringent and rigorous quality control procedures which involved no less than 60 separate checks to ensure both the safety and potency of each dose.

 ‘What we can say right now is that the company will be able to send its vaccine continuously every month,’ the minister said but could not give an exact date for the delivery of the first shipment. ‘We can’t say the exact date we will get our first delivery from the company but we are confident that it will be ready by June 7th.’

Millions of Thai made vaccine doses approved

However, in the last 48 hours, there has been some good news for the government as the AstraZeneca vaccine batches involving millions of doses produced by the Siam Bioscience plant in Pathum Thani have all been approved for use after passing the rigorous screening programme by the UK Swedish firm.

Highest death toll so far in two days this week as infection levels and fears of threatening variants 

On Wednesday, Thailand recorded 41 deaths while the figure rose to 47 on Thursday with 3,323 new infections compared to 2,455 the day before. 

Authorities are hoping that the current outbreak is stabilising before a fall off in number is seen but are nervous about the detection in the country of both the more infectious Indian strain and the more potent South African strain.

This has seen quarantine and security measures taken by officials in Bangkok and the southern province of Narathiwat.

A Malaysian woman crossing into Thailand illegally has been identified as the source of a cluster of B1351 or the South African variant against which the mainstay vaccine of the country’s campaign, AstraZeneca, is only 10.4% effective. 

The outbreak has seen several villages quarantined. 

Similar measures were taken at a building site in the Laksi district of Bangkok over the weekend as fears grew that a cluster linked with the Indian strain B1617 may spread.

At least 45% already vaccinated in Phuket with hopes that the holiday island could see the rebirth of Thailand’s foreign tourism industry after July 1st

In the meantime, there is good news from Phuket where Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit the Permanent Secretary of Public Health has now confirmed that 45% of the population have received the first dose with 22% being fully vaccinated with both doses.

Earlier, figures reported from sources in Phuket by the Thai Examiner suggested a figure of 25% and 52% respectively in recent days as the focused programme in the island is proceeding successfully with the July 1st date looking increasingly practical and likely.

Thai officials are hoping that Phuket will deliver a boost to the prospects for foreign tourism this year with current estimates scaled back to 500,000 visitors across the kingdom while officials are suggesting that Phuket, itself, may welcome up to 1 million foreign tourists to the island from July 1st with the province emerging as a Covid 19 free haven.

This would mean the so-called ‘Phuket Sandbox’ may be the first to witness the rebirth of Thailand’s foreign tourism industry. 

Officials extremely upbeat about vaccination progress and efficacy of Sinovac vaccine in Phuket after conducting a test on a high-risk sample

Officials there have been extremely upbeat this week on the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine which is being used in Thailand now reportedly across all age groups and is the main vaccine for the Phuket initiative.

Dr Kiattiphum reported that officials had conducted their own research with a sample of 1,366 in a high-risk group and discovered the vaccine is 73.1% effective at preventing transmission even with one dose administered while with two, the block rate rose to 83.3%

‘We studied 1,366 people in the high-risk group who had close contact with confirmed patients in Phuket,’ he revealed. ‘We found that the chance of contracting the virus had dropped by 73.1% among those who had their first jab and by 83.3% among those who got both jabs.’ 

Six people in sample fully inoculated with two doses were discovered to have become reinfected again

Significantly, the public health official did highlight that six of the sample who had two doses of the vaccine did still go on to contract the virus. 

However, the infections were not serious with all vaccines across the spectrum now showing efficacy at preventing hospitalisation or death against any form of the virus.

 ‘Of the 31 infected patients who received one dose of the Sinovac vaccine, only four developed pneumonia, while six patients who received both doses showed no sign of pneumonia,’ he said. ‘Also, since the start of May, Phuket has seen no new patients among those who have received both doses of Sinovac.’

Pattaya announced its own ‘Pattaya, Move on’ plans but there are to be restrictions say officials

The success already seen in Phuket is now being taken aboard by other regions with Pattaya’s Mayor Sontaya Kunplome, on Wednesday, holding a public meeting themed ‘Pattaya, Move on’ where it was agreed that Pattaya, like Phuket, will welcome vaccinated foreign tourists without quarantine from October 1st.

However, the Pattaya initiative limits foreign tourists to a certain area of Pattaya for the first seven days of their stay, specifies requirements for hotels that can be used and imposes reporting as well as a tracking requirement on foreign visitors. 

Reopening to tourism helps focus minds on the vaccination drive and will lead to an economic boost

Eight other tourist spots including Bangkok, Buriram, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Phang-nga, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Surat Thani will also be pursuing this course at that time.

The reopening programme and what is happening in Phuket will help to boost confidence in the vaccination process among the public in Thailand while at the same time helping to restore employment within the battered foreign tourism sector and once again see lucrative foreign currency earnings, at a critical level, flow back into Thailand helping to boost the overall economy and financial liquidity.

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