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.

Mr Giuseppe Busini, the Deputy Chief of the European Union Mission in Thailand, has confirmed that Thai vaccines and COVID-19 certification on the Mor Prom app will be valid and accepted across the European Union from January 2022. It follows agencies in the 27 member bloc adopting equivalency proposals this week for Thailand and several other states. The new regime will span up to 60 countries linked under a mutually recognised scheme or network.

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.

Join the Thai News forum, follow Thai Examiner on Facebook here
Receive all our stories as they come out on Telegram here
Follow Thai Examiner here

Further reading:

Omicron has arrived in Thailand but top officials believe they can manage an escalating situation

Thailand pushes ahead with foreign tourism drive, may defer switch to antigen testing over Omicron

Health officials asks for a review of the list of 63 countries allowed to enter without quarantine

Nightlife to reopen on a certified basis as officials try to balance public health and the economy

Thailand Pass is being upgraded but passenger stress stories continue with cancellation threats

Tourism reopening may lose momentum as government pivots back to public health priorities

Incoming passengers vent frustration at problems and bugs with the Thailand Pass system this week

Kingdom may see up to 1 million tourists this year but it will be an uphill battle to get back to 2019

Vaccinated tourists from 63 countries can leave SHA plus hotels after 1st night says top official in Phuket

Fears for travellers trying to access Thailand in the interim period as Thailand Pass launch nears GO

Russian and Indian travellers unhappy at entry rules for November 1st, call for simpler plans

Most tourists will be able to travel freely in Thailand once they pass their first test on arrival here

46 countries green-lighted as Thailand’s tourism business is set to take off from November 1st

Bright lights may be turned on again for foreign tourism as hated Certificate of Entry is to be axed

TAT boss: quarantine remains for 1 day to test all visitors, no going back to old tourism pub scenes

PM’s reopening order-only the beginning of the end of this cataclysmic crisis for Thai tourism

High-quality tourism dream may be making the COVID-19 crisis for the industry even worse than it should be

Tourism chief again plans to open up Thailand’s rock bottom tourism industry to cryptocurrencies

Dysfunction hits reopening of Thailand to tourism as Health Minister dismisses October 1st date

Bangkok reopening delayed as figures for fully vaccinated must nearly double by October 15th to go ahead

New normal tourism may see foreign and local tourists segregated at Pattaya tourist attractions

Only 13% will visit Thailand under the kingdom’s demanding entry process with 2021 economic growth at stake

October reopening of foreign tourism to Thailand could be another false dawn with cumbersome entry regime

Richest man in Thailand says COVID-19 is like a World War, the kingdom could end up a big loser in the end

Foreigners in Thailand have nearly ฿600 billion in the bank as inequality and poverty rise alarmingly

Rising prospect of GDP contraction for 2021 may see government breach the legal public debt limit

A dead mother beside her children and a taxi driver who slept, show us a nation riven by an extended crisis

Economic fears rising as Thailand faces a bigger crisis than 1997 with rising job losses and debt

Baht falling with confidence in Thailand waning as foreign tourism closure and virus drive funds out

Central bank to lower GDP growth forecast as its attention turns to private sector debt management

Thailand to reopen to ‘big fish’ tourists as a cryptocurrency friendly haven says promotion agency boss

Failure to pass the ฿500 billion borrowing decree could lead to the dissolution of parliament

Baht to strengthen later in the year even after July as foreign tourists will return says top bank economist

Industry leaders and central bank all warn that foreign tourism must return to avoid a collapse

Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector

Fact – only 6,556 visitors arrived in Thailand last month compared to 3.95 million in December 2019

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

Strict entry criteria to remain as officials await clarity on the medical status of vaccinated people

Challenge of the virus and closure to tourism leads to major long term changes in the Thai economy

Finance Minister says economy must pivot away from tourism with a switch to S-Curve industries

Steady as she goes economy driven by exports and public investment with a 3.3% growth rate forecast for 2021

Thailand’s tourism boss targets thousands instead of millions as public health is prioritised above all

Thailand unlikely to reopen doors to mass-market tourism before the end of 2021 until after a full vaccination

Strengthening baht predicted as investors bet on a reopening of Thailand to mass tourism in 2021

Economic picture continues to darken as cabinet approves new ฿700 billion loan to plug the gap of higher deficits

Thailand facing a credit crunch as 3rd virus wave craters the kingdom’s economic recovery plans

3rd virus wave now spells not just economic loss but financial danger as kingdom’s debt level rises

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

Reopening of Phuket still not officially approved although it is the ideal test for a broader move

Minister urged not to be afraid to borrow in 2021 as fears grow for a quick foreign tourism revival

Economy to rebound as the year progresses driven by exports and a return of mass foreign tourism

Door closing on quick foreign tourism return as economic recovery is delayed to the end of 2022

Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector

Fact – only 6,556 visitors arrived in Thailand last month compared to 3.95 million in December 2019

Finance Minister says economy must pivot away from tourism with a switch to S-Curve industries