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COVID-19: Thailand's new cases and fatalities reach daily highs

29/07/2021 05:45 PM

By Linda Khoo Hui Li

BANGKOK, July 29 -- Thailand is battling a worsening third wave of COVID-19 outbreak, with new cases and deaths recording new highs nearly every day.

Thailand’s COVID-19 cases hit another record high on Thursday with 17,669 new cases and 165 new fatalities reported over the last 24 hours, bringing the total in the kingdom to 561,030 cases and 4,562 deaths since January last year.

However, the worst is yet to come as Thai health authorities warned that the COVID-19 cases could reach up to 30,000 in the ‘worst-case scenario’, especially with people failing to comply with the containment measures.

Non-governmental organisation Rural Doctor Society (RDS) pointed out that the infection rate in Bangkok has hit 19 per cent, indicating the COVID-19 outbreak is “out of control” in the capital.

Director of Veterinary Health Innovation and Management Research Group at National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) Dr Anan Jongkaewwattana said the COVID-19 situation in the kingdom is ‘very concerning’.

“We have to monitor cases in major provinces and rural areas.  As healthcare capacity in those area is not high, more severe cases may mean more fatality. If we cannot control the situation, I would foresee that the worst is yet to come,” he told Bernama when contacted.

Fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India, the virologist said COVID-19 cases in the kingdom have been surging rapidly, especially in Bangkok and neighboring provinces.

“Another important factor is the slow pace of vaccination.  We are falling behind schedule in terms of vaccination for high-risk population.  The suboptimal efficacy of inactivated vaccine against Delta variant also plays a role in the rapid surge in Thailand,” he said.

Therefore, Dr Anan said health authorities need to step up active case detection and isolate infected individuals soonest.

“Lockdown may be necessary but needs to be implemented with clear plan of reimbursement; otherwise, those affected will not be willing to cooperate,” he added.

The third wave of outbreak, which started from Bangkok’s entertainment outlets, has recorded 532,167 COVID-19 cases and 4,468 deaths in about three months since April 1.

There is a sense of desperation in Bangkok as the infection rate continues to soar. At least four infected homeless men were found dead on the streets in Bangkok, and their forlorn bodies remained on the streets for up to 12 hours.

Long lines of people queuing and camping overnight to get free COVID-19 tests in Bangkok were seen.

The Thai healthcare system is now bursting at the seams with hospitals running short of beds, and many COVID-19 patients dying at home while waiting for hospital beds as well as ambulance.

A photo of patients lying on stretchers outside emergency ward of Ban Paew Hospital in Samut Sakhon province, waiting for hospital beds, is worrying, with a doctor claiming many had died while waiting. 

To ease the shortage of hospital beds, authorities are implementing various measures, especially in the capital, including transporting COVID-19 patients with mild and moderate symptoms in Bangkok back to their home provinces to receive treatment at provincial hospitals.

Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) also converted 15 disused railway carriages at Bang Sue Grand Station’s maintenance depot into a 240-bed isolation ward for COVID-19 patients with mild and moderate symptoms while waiting for hospital beds.

At the same time, to accommodate COVID-19 patients with less severe symptoms, authorities turned the satellite terminal building at Suvarnabhumi Airport into a 5,000-bed field hospital, and a cargo warehouse at Don Mueang Airport into a 1,800-bed field hospital.

To date, a total of 185,976 patients remained in hospitals and field hospitals nationwide including 4,511 in critical condition and 1,001 relying on ventilators.

Amid the rapid surge, the government accelerated the vaccination campaign. To date,  more 16.5 million people have received at least a dose of vaccine since the vaccination drive kicked off on February 28.

However, public frustration is building up over the slow vaccination roll-out, with many blaming the government for mismanaging the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Thailand has relied heavily on Sinovac (inactivated virus vaccines) and AstraZeneca (viral vector) vaccine, both available for free. For Sinopharm (inactivated virus vaccines), rolled out in late June, the public need to pay 888 baht (US$27) per dose.

To date, Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six COVID-19 vaccines, namely Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm, and m-RNA vaccines Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. 

However, there is an increasing demand for mRNA vaccines amid doubts over efficacy of the other vaccines especially against the Delta variant.

At present, many Thais are also hesitating to get the COVID-19 vaccine. A survey by polling firm YouGov showed that vaccine hesitancy has risen sharply.

In January, 83 per cent of Thais surveyed were willing to be vaccinated, but by July 4 it dropped to 70 per cent in the same poll – lower than Singapore (91 per cent), Malaysia (90 per cent) and the Philippines (82 per cent).

A young entrepreneur, Chomphukarn Oprasert, said stringent restrictions including the closure of businesses and public venues will help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“However, the people strongly believe that the most effective way to halt the spread of COVID-19 is to provide them with mRNA vaccine,” she told Bernama.

Thailand plans to reopen its door to fully-vaccinated visitors by mid-October, announced by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha last month. However the the plan now remains uncertain as cases continue rise. 


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