Thailand Tightens Measures to Stem New Wave of Infections
(Bloomberg) -- With the latest flareup in coronavirus outbreak in Thailand sweeping almost two-thirds of the country, authorities are tightening measures to contain infection risks ahead of the New Year holidays.
Bangkok, the nation’s capital and its largest city, ordered sports and entertainment venues to close from Tuesday through Jan. 4, with a possible extension in the event of the situation not improving in the next one week. Tak, a province bordering Myanmar, and the nation’s virus hotspots Samut Sakhon and Rayong, have also imposed similar restrictions to prevent a further flareup in infections.
The latest wave of infections, which started after a seafood vendor was tested positive for Covid-19 two weeks ago, has now spread to about 60% of Thailand’s 77 provinces, official data show. The government has so far refrained from imposing a broad lockdown but allowed each provincial authorities to set its own measures based on risks of infections.
Thailand, the first country outside China to report the deadly virus, has been able to control the outbreak relatively well, and was betting on a tourism industry revival to pull the economy out of recession. But the latest wave of infections has added more than 2,000 cases in the past 10 days, making up about 30% of the country’s total tally.
There’s been “a large surge” in new infections detected in Rayong, Chonburi, Chantaburi and Samut Prakarn provinces, Taweesilp Witsanuyotin, a spokesperson for the national Covid-19 response center, said at an online briefing Tuesday. A total of 45 provinces have reported local transmissions of the virus, he said.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s government has to choose between short-term gains from spending during New Year celebrations and the risk of long-term damage to the economy from an outbreak going out of control, Thira Woratanarat, public health expert and associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of medicine, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. People also have to decide between having a party and risking spreading the virus, he said.
Prayuth urged people to avoid travel to affected provinces and wear masks while adhering to local regulations to prevent the virus from spreading further. “Whether a lockdown needs to be imposed will depend on how cooperative people are with the current measures,” he said in Bangkok after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The infections have been mostly detected among people who work in seafood markets, many of whom are migrant workers and close contacts of the confirmed cases. The majority of the recent cases can be traced back to the seafood hub Samut Sakhon province, but risks of infections spreading beyond the main clusters remain as more people travel across countries during the holidays.
New cases in Thailand may spike to as high as 18,000 a day in January if no control measures are implemented, Taweesilp said. The country can limit new infections to about 1,000 cases a day with curbs, he said adding the government may unveil stronger measures next week if the situation worsens.
“The window to contain the outbreak is within four weeks since the start so we have until mid-January before cases increase exponentially,” Thira of Chulalongkorn University said. “There needs to be strict measures in place, and we need to test as many people as possible. Now isn’t the time to promote travels because if we don’t curb infections now it could take as long as three months to contain the outbreak.”
The benchmark Thai stock index swung between gains and losses after tumbling 2.3% on Monday on concerns of more restrictions hurting businesses. The baht rose as much as 0.4% against the U.S. dollar, heading for its third straight month of advance, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
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