Thailand Makes Its Own Covid-19 Tests to Avoid Import Reliance

Thailand is ramping up domestic production of Covid-19 test kits to avoid a potential shortage, as it prepares for a possible second wave of infections after most businesses and services reopened.

“Thailand has always received criticism for testing too few, and that was the case at the outset because there weren’t enough test kits,” said Songpon Deechongkit, managing director of Siam Bioscience Co., which has distributed 100,000 kits to the local government since early April. With recent expansion, it can now produce as many as 100,000 per month “to ensure health security and to be less reliant on imports.”

While no new cases have been detected from local transmission for more than six weeks, some experts have attributed this feat to low testing rates -- only 600,000 samples have been analyzed in a country with 69 million people. The U.K., by comparison, performed 18 times more tests though it has a similar population, according to Worldometer. Thailand’s official infection count is about 3,200 cases, with 58 virus-related fatalities.

Thailand Makes Its Own Covid-19 Tests to Avoid Import Reliance

Siam Bioscience is owned by the Crown Property Bureau, a quasi-government investment and asset management agency. The company’s produces “polymerase chain reaction test kits” at a third the cost of imported versions, Songpon said. The kits arebased on a design from the Department of Medical Sciences, which buys the tests.

Thailand’s strategy to ramp up production mirrors its home-grown vaccine-development plan. Both reflect concern that a global tug-of-war over supply of resources would put Thais at risk. India, for example, faces a shortage of testing kits as it mostly relies on imports. The U.S. is also struggling with insufficient sampling and low-quality products.

Thai health officials have focused on high-risk groups, noting that current positivity-rates of less than 1%, along with sharp drops in cases of influenza and pneumonia, provide evidence that testing has been sufficient and that the outbreak may be under control.

But Songpon warns against complacency, especially since those results have led to the reopening of businesses, schools and hotels in recent weeks.

The U.S. has seen a surge in cases after bans on restaurants and bars were eased. Hong Kong has reported a jump in cases of unknown origin, some asymptomatic, suggesting hidden chains of transmission circulating in the city as businesses reopened.

“Testing should now be about active surveillance. We have to be vigilant and proactive,” Songpon said, noting that the highest risks are at transport hubs, quarantine facilities and among migrants who illegally cross borders. “As long as there is movement of people coming into Thailand, there will always be a risk,” Songpon said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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