The United Kingdom variant of the COVID-19 is behind the rapid rise in cases in clusters centered on Bangkok’s entertainment centers, one of the country’s top virus expert said on Wednesday.
Speaking in a press conference at the Public Health Ministry on Wednesday, Dr. Yong Poovorawan of the Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine said that, if possible, people’s movements should be restricted immediately because of the presence of the COVID-19 variant in the capital.
The alternative is to introduce stricter measures similar to last year’s lockdown to curb the spread of the disease, Dr. Yong suggested.
“We don’t know how it could have been found here given the fact that we have the state quarantine system,” he said.
Thailand is also set to celebrate its first Songkran Festival since the pandemic started, after which, Dr. Yong had previously indicated, cases could rise by the thousands because of what he described as “unnecessary travel.”
Dr. Yong and the Ministry of Public Health said that there is a possibility of a thousand new cases every day given the more contagious British variant, which is said to be 1.7 times more virulent than the original COVID-19 that spread throughout the world last year.
To come up with the estimate, the Public Health Ministry took the virus’ infection rate into consideration together with the more relaxed COVID-19 control measures that the government has put into place. According to Dr. Yong, this year’s control measures are 10 times more relaxed compared to last year’s Songkran Festival.
Acknowledging the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy, Dr. Yong said that there should be a balance stimulating the economy and containing the virus.
“[E]conomic stimulus through promotion of tourism won’t work as nobody would want to travel to an epidemic zone,” he warned.
Dr. Yong also warned against visiting older relatives during the Festival, which the government has said is more important than the festivities that have been associated with Songkran in the past years.
He said that visits should be done online for now, given the fact that infections have spread because of otherwise healthy and young people who are asymptomatic or show no symptoms. Thus, Dr. Yong said, visiting older relatives during Songkran poses the risk of passing on the virus to everyone’s elders.
He added that older people have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19 infection, while younger people have a higher risk of spreading the virus to older relatives because they have a higher concentration of the virus in their throats.
Dr. Yong urged the government to expedite the currently ongoing vaccination process, stating that herd immunity is only possible in one year if authorities are able to administer up to 300,000 doses per day.
On the other hand, it will take three more years to achieve herd immunity at the current rate of 100,000 doses per day.
The Ministry of Public Health said that it plans to recommend to the Cabinet the closure of night entertainment venues in Bangkok to respond to the rising number of cases.