Delta Spread Beyond Bangkok Is Pushing Thai Cases to Record
(Bloomberg) -- Thailand is bracing for the emergence of new Covid clusters as the highly infectious delta variant spreads rapidly beyond the current epicenter of metropolitan Bangkok.
About 60% of Thailand’s new coronavirus cases in recent days have been reported from outside the capital and surrounding provinces, with low vaccination rates and looser movement curbs, official data showed. The country’s rate of new infections per million population at nearly 300 now dwarfs that of Indonesia or India, with a new daily record 21,379 cases reported on Friday.
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The rapid spread of delta may force the government to extend and expand the crippling Covid-containment measures -- such as curfews and business closures -- that already cover 40% of Thailand’s population and three-quarters of the economy. The worsening outbreak may also scuttle plans to reopen borders to fully vaccinated tourists from mid-October and jump-start the tourism-reliant economy that’s seen its currency weaken to a three-year low.
Over the past several weeks, delta-variant cases have surged in nearly all provinces in Thailand, with about 80% of new infections now caused by the strain first detected in India. While Covid restrictions may not result in a rapid decline in infections, they will help slow the spread and reduce pressure on the health system as the pandemic is likely to ease only from September or October, Thai health officials have said.
Authorities mounted an aggressive vaccination drive in the capital region to quell the outbreak along with lockdown-like restrictions. While nearly 70% of residents in Bangkok have received their first shot, only about one in five people nationwide has received a first jab, Health Ministry data showed.
By focusing on the virus hotspots, the government risks creating more clusters in areas that currently don’t have many restrictions, according to William Aldis, a former country representative for the World Health Organization in Thailand.
“The failure to get anywhere near the vaccination rate Thailand should have at this point is a catastrophic one,” Aldis said. “You’re reacting to something that’s already happening, and you’re ending up chasing the virus around the country. It’s obvious that if they don’t get enough vaccines distributed, it’s going to go around in circles.”
Thailand, which has been slow in its vaccine efforts partly due to supply shortages, has administered about 19 million doses to date, enough to cover about 13.6% of the population. The number of active cases have stayed above 200,000 in recent days, overwhelming hospitals which are also dealing with some 5,000 patients in critical condition.
“Latest data increasingly show that vaccination rates can influence the level of economic activity as well as performance of risk assets,” Isara Ordeedolchest, analyst at Bank of Ayudhya Pcl’s research unit, said in a note on Friday. “Thailand will remain one of the major laggards in terms of economic recovery. This will be a headwind for risk assets as well as the baht.”
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