Thailand’s second-wave coronavirus outbreak slid closer to uncontrolled-transmission status Sunday with the announcement of a second-worst 315 daily cases with contact tracers only able to track the source of 37 of those infections.
New Year’s travel plus the meteoric rise in cases since Dec. 16 has put strain on even the country’s vaunted million-strong army of village health volunteers to track cases, the key to “breaking the chain” of infections and ending the outbreak. Once the roots of new clusters can’t be traced, the virus is deemed to be uncontrollably, setting up the government to impose the harshest lockdown measures to flatten the curve of infections.
Thailand isn’t there yet and Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration spokesman Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin said Sunday that the agency is backing off earlier proposals to shut down dine-in eating at restaurants and travel restrictions at the national level and give provincial governors more power to implement more-targeted, local shutdowns.
Taweesin admitted the CCSA is loathe to call its efforts to quash the new outbreak a “lockdown” as that carries serious psychological consequences on the public and requires the government to provide costly compensation for workers put out of work by government action.
“We learned our lesson (from the first lockdown) that the use of strict measures across the country only affects innocent people,” Taweesin said. “Those who disobey the laws continue to do so. We will not let innocent people hurt again.”
On the other hand, with cases exploding at an exponential rate, some sacrifice in person freedom is needed, the CCSA spokesman said.
“We have to lose something to save our lives.”
All eyes are now on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is expected by Monday to decide on exactly which of the many CCSA and Public Health Ministry recommendations he will impose.
The CCSA reclassified 28 hard-hit provinces as “highly controlled areas” and proposed that they be subjected to the most-stringent controls that would discourage – but no ban – all non-essential interprovincial travel, encourage working from home, the move to online schooling, the closing of additional “high-risk” businesses and limiting hours of those allowed to remain open, such as shopping malls. Restaurants would have to close their dining rooms and alcohol could only be sold in retail stores and consumed at home.
The Public Health Ministry on Saturday went further, suggesting a hard lockdown of Chonburi, Rayong and Chanthaburi provinces, forbidding anyone from entering or leaving the hot zone without government permission, with army troops and police barricading highways and local roads.
Taweesin on Sunday toned down the tough talk, saying the CCSA has dropped the idea to banning dine-in restaurants across all the 28 “red zone” provinces, allowing governors to decide the issue. As for travel restrictions, the agency right now only is “seeking cooperation” from motorists to postpone interprovincial journeys tht aren’t absolutely necessary.
Bangkok, Rayong, Chonburi, Samut Sakhon, Panthum Thani and Samut Songkhram already have imposed the same or similar measures as the CCSA’s “Level 1” restrictions for the 28 high-risk provinces. Taweesin acknowledged that more provincial governors may do the same, even if the CCSA wasn’t recommending it.
“Each province has its own problems, such as Tak, which faces illegal border crossings, or Rayong, which is dealing with gambling dens,” Taweesin said. “Local governments have a better understanding of the local risk.”
Since Dec. 16, the outbreak has seen provinces reporting Covid-19 cases jump from 16 to 53. Sunday, Chanthaburi and Chonburi reported the most cases, with 68 and 62, respectively.
Samut Sakhon followed with 56 cases – 18 among migrant workers in market dormitories – then Rayong with 43, Bangkok with 19 and Trat with 12. The rest of the cases were found in Ang Thong (9) Samut Prakan (8), Ratchaburi (5), Nonthaburi (five with two in a migrant dormitory), Chiang Mai (2), Lampang (2), Samut Songkhram (1), Kanchanaburi (1) and Amnat Charoen (1).
Also included in the tally were 21 overseas returnees already in quarantine. Most notable among these were the first known cases of the new, more-contagious variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7.
The mutation was found in a family of four British nationals who arrived in Thailand from the United Kingdom and are now in an isolation ward of a private hospital.
The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 7,694 – 5,650 of which were contracted domestically, including 1,440 migrant workers and 2,044 returnees. So far, 4,337 have recovered and been discharged, while 64 have died.
More worrisome, however, is the growing number of cases that cannot be traced. Of Sunday’s 294 locally transmitted cases, only 37 can be traced back to the outbreaks in Rayong or Samut Sakhon.
“Unless we work together to fight the virus, we will continue to see a spike in cases like countries abroad,” Taweesin said. “Based on the numbers that we are seeing right now, this battle is bigger and more severe than the previous one.”