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Bangkok Cancels New Year’s as Coronavirus Cases Rise to 688 in Samut Sakhon

Long lines formed Sunday for free coronavirus tests in Samut Sakhon.
Long lines formed Sunday for free coronavirus tests in Samut Sakhon.

Thailand’s public-health leaders are downplaying the risk of a coronavirus second wave, but Bangkok officials apparently don’t believe it, canceling all official New Year’s celebrations in the capital after 688 people linked to a Samut Sakhon shrimp market contracted Covid-19.

The BMA on Sunday announced all public new year’s countdowns, such as at Central World and Iconsiam, and asked private party organizers to follow suit, or face a stack of new paperwork and requirements from city hall.

After reporting 548 coronavirus cases Sunday morning, the Public Health Ministry revised its figures in the afternoon, saying now that 688 people, mostly Burmese fishing-industry workers, have tested positive.

Thirty-two cases alone involve contacts of “Patient 1”, a 67-year-old Thai woman who owned a farm at the Central Shrimp Market at the sprawling Mahachai fresh market.

Two of those cases were found in Bangkok. Three more cases were found in Samut Prakan, two in Nakhon Pathom, one in Suphan Buri, and one in Ratchaburi.

Mahachai Central Fresh Shrimp Seafood Market Samut Sakhon Thailand Coronavirus Covid-19-3

After originally saying 10,000 tests were planned for migrant workers, the ministry later announced it now plans to do 40,000 coronavirus tests. On Sunday, long lines of migrant workers formed to be tested.

While Public Health Permanent Secretary Kiatiphum Wongrajitsaid Sunday that the ministry expects the total caseload to continue rising, he also expressed confidence the outbreak will remain largely confined to the market area, which includes dormitorites where hundreds of shrimp peelers, fishermen, fishmongers and other migrant workers live in crowded, unsanitary conditions.

As relatively few Thais work in the low-paid, long-hour businesses, their exposure to the virus will be minimal, Kiatiphum said, predicting things could return to “normal” within four weeks if officials succeed in containing the outbreak.

Officials in Bangkok and other provinces sounded doubtful.

In addition to canceling new year’s countdowns, Bangkok also said it would set up checkpoints for vehicles entering the capital, allow companies to allow employees to work from home for two weeks, and require bars and restaurants to enforce social distancing and suspend dancing and new year’s festivities.

Temples and churches also must enforce social distancing and mass gatherings at parks are banned for 14 days.

Elsewhere, Bangsaen officials canceled their planned New Year’s countdown while the three-day Pattaya Countdown music festival and fireworks show is on thin ice.

Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome said Sunday that he believes the city’s coronavirus preparedness was proven effective in the just concluded Pattaya Music Festival and felt the countdown could go own. However, he plans to continue monitoring the situation and left open to option to cancel the festival.

A last-minute cancellation of the Pattaya Countdown would deal a body blow to strugging Pattaya where hotels were said to be nearly booked for new year’s weekend. It obviously would infuriate those who paid in advance for rooms and likely would not receive refunds.