New outbreak comes as Bangkok is preparing ‘swab hubs’ to cater for a strong inflow of foreign tourists from November as Thailand ramps up its reopening process. Thai public health officials are warning the public to still exercise caution as the country’s overall vaccination rate has not yet reached the targeted 70% of the population nationwide particularly with the popular Loy Krathong Festival due in mid-November.
Thai officials are working to confront an escalating outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in five southern provinces with the country’s Rural Doctors Society warning of a dangerous surge. More vaccine doses are being dispatched to the region and better coordination of the vaccination campaign is being pushed after a visit this week by Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul to see the situation for himself.
Assistant spokesperson for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) Dr Apisamai Srisangson, on Friday, warned of an alarming rise in infection in Thailand’s southern provinces.
It comes as Friday’s figures for the southern region of the country showed a 20% increase in one day.
The public health official told reporters in Bangkok that the rise in cases of the disease, linked with several variants of COVID-19, underlined the need to speed up vaccination rates in the region.
Quick entry into Thailand in November
Meanwhile, authorities in Bangkok are preparing ‘swab hubs’ to process foreign tourists who are expected to begin returning to Thailand in force from November with no quarantine required for an initial list of five countries including the United Kingdom and the United States.
Dr Apisamai explained on Friday that the new entry measures being introduced and the new ‘Thailand Pass’ system will reduce the period required for entering Thailand to between one and three days.
Unused vaccines and distribution issues are part of the problem as the vaccination rate must be boosted
It comes amid reports of unused supplies of vaccines and problems with the distribution of doses across the southern province most heavily impacted by the latest outbreak.
An urgent push is underway to reorganise such operations through various health authorities and local government agencies in the region.
Earlier this week, the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul led a fact-finding team from his ministry to the area to ascertain for himself the reason for the spike in infections there.
COVID-19 virus spreading very much like the original outbreak from Bangkok workers camps this summer
On Friday, Dr Apisamai explained that the concern is that the outbreak there which began in a small locus or cluster has spread quickly and is also now being spread by transmission among family members in the population across at least five provinces.
It is understood that, as in Bangkok, the outbreak in the region originated within worker’s camps.
The government in Bangkok is reported to be devolving more powers to local officials and provincial governors in the southern region to counter the outbreak.
On Friday, the total number of infections across the five hardest-hit provinces was 3,018 or nearly 29% of the national tally with Bangkok still at the top recording 1,054 cases or 10%.
The hardest-hit provinces were Yala, Pattani, Songkhla, Narathiwat and Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Official urges the population to practice safe behaviour while there is still a residual virus threat
There are also several clusters of concern still across the rest of the country in Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani and Prachuap Khiri Khan but officials are confident that advancing levels of vaccination will mean the situation can be kept under control.
On Friday, Dr Apisamai did, however, warn that care must be taken across Thailand in November particularly during the popular Thai Loy Krathong Festival scheduled for November 19th.
She expressed concern about the possibility of traditional banquets and gatherings leading to further outbreaks of the disease at a time when the population is not fully vaccinated, fearing that such activities could trigger another wave of the virus.
Dr Apisamai called on anyone involved in organising such activities or gatherings to liaise with local public health officials and also the wider public, to still exercise care and caution as a residual threat from the virus remains.
Minister of Public Health visits the South to oversee the response to the rising COVID-19 outbreak there
Earlier in the week, on his visit to the southern provinces, Minister Anutin heard that vaccination rates in the region are currently at between 21 to 30% which is below the national average of 33%.
The minister met with local community and religious leaders. He urged them to encourage everyone in the wider community to get vaccinated to provide mutual protection.
He also revealed that the Department of Disease Control had prioritised 500,000 doses to the region of the Pfizer vaccine.
‘At the very least, the vaccine jabs will make it easier to contain the virus,’ he said and referred to the fact that the rise in the vaccination levels in other parts of the country, notably in Bangkok, has been decisive in suppressing the advance of the virus, particularly where the 70% threshold is reached.
Rural Doctors Society warn of surge
Officials explained to Minister Anutin that part of the problem in the region was also the spread of the disease in large extended families when a family member became infected.
Thailand’s Rural Doctor Society has also warned that it has detected a major surge of the virus in the region which must be given priority to prevent the situation from escalating.