Public health officials are currently scrambling to control an emerging cluster in Kalasin caused by a returned couple from Belgium who travelled extensively in Kalasin and Khon Kaen provinces before being diagnosed on December 16th last at Kalasin Hospital. Meanwhile, hopes are being raised that Omicron may offer some respite to a virus fatigued world as national leaders and scientists wait for hospitalisation rates to come in from a global virus wave, already confirmed in over 100 countries, that is expected to infect no less than 3 billion people over the coming three months according to US scientists in Washington.
Vaccines administered in Thailand will be accepted throughout the European Union from January after EU scientists and officials approved the move in recent days. It comes as the kingdom prepares itself for the ignition of a possible Omicron wave as it fights to control a cluster in Kalasin province in northeastern Thailand and while the latest news from western countries appears to be offering a glimmer of hope about this new more infectious but clinically less dangerous form of the disease which is expected to become endemic across the world in the coming months.
Vaccinations administered in Thailand and certification will now be recognised across the European Union.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the 27 member bloc in Thailand, Mr Giuseppe Busini, confirmed that it had approved the equivalency of certificates issued by 5 countries including Thailand, Montenegro, Taiwan, Tunisia and Uruguay.
Thai vaccine certificates valid for COVID-19 pass regimes across the European Union bloc next month
This means that certificates of vaccination issued by the Thai Ministry of Public Health will be valid when presented across the European Union member states.
Thailand will also recognise the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate for citizens of any of the 27 member states of the union on arrival in the kingdom.
The Ministry of Public Health has clarified that the current Digital Health Pass available through the Mor Prom app in Thailand will be accepted across European Union member states from January.
Omicron takes off across the world as some European countries tighten rules making vaccines mandatory for workers and citizens sparking a backlash
The move is coming as the Omicron variant of the virus is taking off in terms of infection in Europe and the United States with particularly stringent measures coming into force in some EU states in the new year including the prospect of having a mandatory vaccination status in both Austria and Germany.
In Austria, it will be mandatory to be vaccinated from February. Failure to do so will not be a criminal offence but will lead to a fine of over $4,000.
Meanwhile, in Germany, all health workers must be vaccinated by March 15th with moves by lawmakers to widen the mandate after that.
This is similar to Italy where it is mandatory for a range of public sector employees including the military and the police as well as workers in critical industries to be vaccinated.
Strong backlash in Italy against enforced mandates
The introduction of mandatory legal provisions in the European Union and the United States has generated a strong backlash leading to Italian ministers pulling back from proposals for wider enforcement of mandatory vaccination measures in recent weeks.
The divisions in society on the issue of vaccination status and public health provisions in response to this virus crisis is, in itself, now becoming a cause of growing concern across the world.
Polarised viewpoints are hindering a more constructive and practical response in western countries.
Divisions in Thai society already heightened due to political tensions, not so much in relation to the virus
A survey carried out in Thailand in August and September by the Bank of Thailand’s Puey Ungphakorn Institution for Economic Research (PIER) found that political divisions had weakened social trust and reconciliation in the kingdom from 2008 with a score of 40% declining to 30%.
The virus has not increased division or polarisation so far in Thailand in the same way as it has done in western countries.
It may well have assisted more of a shared purpose in the kingdom although criticism of the government’s handling of the virus response grew very strongly in August and September this year at the height of the Delta wave particularly from among small-time business owners in Bangkok and Phuket.
Calls for booster vaccines even as evidence shows the Omicron variant is 50% to 70% less dangerous
In Europe, there are also growing calls from public health officials across the 27 member European Union bloc for booster shots to give added protection against the new variant of the disease.
This is despite it being reported by scientists in the United Kingdom, Denmark and South Africa to be 50 to 70% less likely to result in hospitalisation. It is feared the sheer scale of infection from the new wave may destabilise health systems and workforces within national economies.
The European Union is heralding its Digital Covid Certificate, which has been the basis for reopening flights and free travel between the bloc’s member states in 2021, as a success including its reciprocal and equivalence agreements with other countries such as Thailand.
EU hails is COVID-19 Digital Pass a success including its tie-ups with countries such as Thailand
The success of the European Union Covid Digital Pass was hailed by the Belgian European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders in recent days: ‘This year has been a successful one when it comes to the rollout of the EU Digital Covid Certificate: 60 countries and territories in five continents are now connected to our system. We have seen the need and the added value of such a certificate to travel safely, also with Covid-19 variants, it will continue to serve.’
The news comes as Thai authorities are urging the public to be more vigilant while at the same time advising that they are ready for the ignition of a potential Omicron wave within the kingdom.
Public health officials fight off the Kalasin Omicron cluster caused by a returning couple from Belgium
Currently, public health officials in Khon Kaen are focused on a local cluster of infections in Kalasin province linked with the return of a couple on December 11th who were visiting relatives in Belgium.
In the latest batch of 2,671 confirmed cases on Friday, Christmas Eve, 84% were the Delta variant while 16% were Omicron including a significant number of passengers still arriving into Thailand having been previously approved by the Thailand Pass system for the now-suspended ‘Test and Go’ quick entry process.
All approved through the Thailand Pass system will be allowed to enter, 90,000 up to January 10th 2022
However, the growing spectre of Omicron can be seen from the data which shows that 53% of infections detected among incoming passengers were now of the new Omicron strain compared to 47% for Delta.
100 were exposed to the infected couple in Kalasin with 19 confirmed cases linked to the cluster
The local transmission cluster in Kalasin province has seen public health officials following up on 100 suspected people thought to have been exposed to the outbreak there.
The husband and wife, both reported as being 47 years of age, returned to the kingdom on December 11th via Suvarnabhumi Airport and tested positive at Kalasin Hospital in the northeastern province five days later on Thursday the 16th December.
They were admitted to Khon Kaen Hospital where they are reported to have been treated for the infection.
On Friday, Dr Supakit Sirilak of the Department of Medical Sciences said that the number of detected cases of Omicron has now risen to 205 in Thailand as officials scramble to contain the northeastern cluster which has been linked to a 22-year-old son in law of the couple who lived in Udon Thai becoming infected with Omicron.
The returning couple from Belgium are reported to have visited bars, shopping malls and government offices in Kalasin and Khon Kaen before they were diagnosed with the new, more infectious variant of COVID-19.
Tracing has already confirmed 19 infections from the growing cluster as officials try to track down the contacts made by the duo while warning the public to be vigilant and observe precautionary measures against the disease.
Glimmers of hope emerge but scientists must be prepared given the sheer scale of Omicron infection
Across the world, in recent days there are glimmers of hope that the Omicron virus strain which is expected to infect up to 3 billion in the coming 3 months according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent population research centre which is part of the University of Washington Medicine, may not be as ominous as first feared.
Scientists are, understandably, tamping down such speculation by media outlets as they monitor the incoming data very carefully.
While there is more and more firm evidence suggesting the new variant is less dangerous, scientists in the United Kingdom have suggested that it needs to be 90% less severe in terms of hospitalisations if it is not to cause more disruption than previous waves.
They also worry about key at-risk groups such as pregnant women and the waning efficacy of vaccines.
‘What we have got now is a really fine balance between something that looks like a lower risk of hospitalisation, which is great news but equally a highly transmissible variant and one that we know evades some of our immune defences, so it is a very balanced position,’ explained Ms Jenny Harris, the Chief Executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency.
She was speaking in the last 48 hours on BBC Radio 4.