Thai Prison Clusters Send Daily Covid Cases to Record High

Thailand’s daily Covid cases surged to a record with outbreaks in prisons, construction camps and densely populated areas in the nation’s capital showing no signs of easing, piling pressure on authorities to accelerate the slow vaccination drive.

The country on Monday reported 9,635 new infections, the highest-single day increase since the pandemic began, with 6,853 cases coming from prison clusters alone. The current wave of outbreak that started early April has added 82,219 cases, or about three-quarters of the country’s total case count of 111,082, official data showed.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha is closely monitoring the situation in correctional facilities, and has asked officials to expedite active case findings to minimize the virus transmission in the crowded compounds, government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul said Monday. The average positivity rate in eight prisons was at 49%, data showed on May 16.

Thai Prison Clusters Send Daily Covid Cases to Record High

The surge in new cases underscores the need to speed up the vaccination drive that has seen only about 2% of Thailand’s population inoculated, trailing the pace of countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The country approved Moderna Inc.’s shots for emergency use last week as it seeks to boost its orders to about 100 million doses to vaccinate about 70% of the adult population by year end.

Thailand’s capital Bangkok, the epicenter of the current outbreak, is currently battling 28 clusters in 19 of its 50 districts. The infections that started in night entertainment venues have now spread to construction worker camps, crowded public housing communities, slums and markets, with the average positivity rate from six testing sites at nearly 7%, according to Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

Wobbly Recovery

Although daily cases continue to increase, the Thai government has relaxed some of its restrictions to boost economic activities. A ban on dine-in services in regions considered high-risk for infections, including Bangkok, has been eased from Monday. But the country still enforces a nationwide mask mandate and a ban on large gatherings.

“There is a big concern about the new Covid-19 wave because our forecast of strong economic recovery in the second half is entirely out of sight,” said Kattiya Indaravijaya, chief executive officer of Kasikornbank Pcl. “Tourism is now expected to return to normal level in two to three years from now. Several customers are now experiencing a very bad situation with new curbs and demand slump. Outbreak really makes people cut their spendings.”

Thailand, which was largely successful in containing the pandemic last year, saw a resurgence of infections from early this year that’s hurt its economy and delayed plans to reopen borders to foreign tourists. Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy contracted 2.6% in the first quarter of this year, the National Economic and Social Development Council said on Monday, while lowering full-year forecast to 1.5%-2.5%, from 2.5%-3.5% earlier.

“The surge in Covid cases, slow vaccine rollout, and new restrictions will hit confidence and delay the anticipated recovery in household consumption, particularly of services,” Sian Fenner, senior Asia economist at Oxford Economics Ltd., wrote in a report. “We also expect the planned opening of key tourist destinations to quarantine-free travel to be delayed.”

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