Bangkok nightlife cluster reveals Thai virus stumbling block

Bangkok (AP) —When the Thai Minister of Transport was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, it was Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha who had the headache.

Prayut was not particularly praised for his leadership in the coronavirus last year, but for most of 2020 Thailand had a low infection and mortality rate and was envious of more developed countries to fight the disease.

The outbreak at nightspots in the capital, Bangkok, is now causing a surge in new infections, suggesting that the country may have been falsely reassured before mass vaccination began.

On Wednesday, 1,335 new cases were identified, bringing the total to 35,910, killing 97 people. It’s much better than most other countries, but the number of cases in Thailand in the first three months of this year is three times that of last year, and the number of days is increasing rapidly.

The new outbreaks spread primarily among young, wealthy and highly mobile Thais, with some of the newly infected individuals being the more contagious subspecies first identified in the United Kingdom.

The government patronizes some of the infectious nightspots, including a club described by the Thai media as a glorious strip joint in which Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob was blatantly ignoring social distance precautions. It is said that he caught the virus from his aide. This has spurred widespread skepticism about the government’s response to the recent crisis.

Thailand has just recently begun to relax strict border controls. This has locked out most travelers, especially all the important tourists whose spending supports millions of jobs over the past year. The limits include mandatory testing for almost all arrivals and 14 days of quarantine.

Authorities are reluctant to impose drastic restrictions such as curfew, ban on alcohol, and the closure of bars, parks and shopping centers, which was the rule when Songkran Thailand’s New Year holidays were canceled last year. It seems that it was a target.

Holidays began this week, with some hospitals rushing to discontinue the COVID-19 test, worried about the need for evidence that thousands of people were exposed, but as many as one million Thais visited their families and went to the beach. It was crowded. They were virus free. Some hospitals claimed a shortage of testing supplies, but the government said the real reason was the unintended consequences of well-meaning regulation. Infected patients need to be hospitalized immediately, but believed that they did not have enough beds to accommodate them.

Authorities pivoted to allow referrals and, according to government protocols to quarantine all known patients, filled thousands of beds in field hospitals set up to accommodate patients with confirmed infections. It was. Online photos show exhausted medical staff wearing protective equipment, depressed while sleeping on a desk or chair.

In the worst-case scenario of the Epidemiology Department of the Department of Disease Control, it was calculated that without safety measures, the country could see up to 28,678 cases per day.

“The situation is still worrisome. Further action will be taken,” warned Tuesday, Dr. Opas Karnkavinpong, director of the agency.

General Nathapapon Nakpanich, Operations Chief of the COVID-19 Situation Management Center, elaborated on Wednesday, saying the government is considering initiating blockades in some areas after the holidays. Includes Bangkok and its surrounding states, Prachuap Khiri Khan in the south with the resort town of Hua Hin, the northern city of Chiang Mai, and part of the east coast with another popular vacation destination, Pattaya. I will.

On Tuesday, the government raised its eyebrows by posting a photo of soldiers spraying into forest areas along the border, even though experts say the greatest virus risk is levitation.

The recent crisis has clearly revealed the Achilles heel in Thailand’s strategy. This was not enough doses this year to inoculate the target 70% of the population believed to be needed to achieve herd immunity.

So far, less than 1% of 69 million Thais have been vaccinated, less than many of Southeast Asia’s neighbors.

Thailand’s early success in containing the virus was remarkable, especially given that it is hosted annually by millions of international travelers from China. The first case outside of China was a Chinese traveler with a fever detected at an airport in Bangkok.

It is unclear why Thailand and several other Southeast Asian countries have succeeded in curbing pandemics for most of last year. Thailand’s extensive and experienced public health system played a major role, and the Prayut government generally postponed the advice of medical professionals.

However, the country pays a great deal for its aggressive efforts to control outbreaks. The economy will shrink 6.1% in 2020, and the revival of the incident is unlikely to bring about an immediate recovery in tourism. Last year, household debt increased by 42% to 87% of GDP due to income declines or stagnation.

And Thailand’s lucky streak diminished at the end of last year when virus clusters were discovered among migrant workers working in factories and seafood markets and living in crowded dormitories. Strict restrictions and large-scale test campaigns near the epicenter of the outbreak seemed to contain it a few weeks later.

“We don’t want to blockade the whole country because we know what the problem is, so can you blockade everything yourself?” Prayut said then. “It’s up to everyone. If you don’t want to get infected, just stay home for 14 to 15 days.”

The relapse drew attention to government vaccination programs, just as US and European countries began to double vaccinations.

In early January, Prayuth said Thailand was trying to secure 63 million doses. It covers less than half of the population with two doses per person. Local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine is scheduled to begin in June.

Complaints have surfaced that closely related companies may unjust enrich the government’s contract to manufacture and supply vaccines, which has been denied by the government and related companies. Prayut’s political opponents complained about mismanagement, lack of transparency, and failure to diversify beyond the AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinobac vaccines.

Vaccine registration for the general public will begin in early May and vaccination will begin later in the month. So far, vaccination could open early as a so-called bubble, where mainly healthcare professionals, especially areas considered to be at high risk, and vaccinated foreign tourists can stay unquarantined. It is aimed at a certain community.

On Tuesday, 793 people received the jab. This is less than the number of new infections and is out of the pace of thousands of people a day these days.