Having rode out the first coronavirus wave with little damage, Thailand is betting on home-grown solutions to ride out the second.
From personal protection equipment to coronavirus tests and even a possible vaccine, the country is stamping “Made in Thailand” on its solutions. Whether it’s simply another nationalistic response to a global problem or a genuine solution remains to be seen.
Most recently, Siam Bioscience Co., owned by the Crown Property Bureau, has begun mass production of coronavirus tests to prepare for a potential second wave of infections in a country that has done relatively few tests per capita.
Through the end of June, Thailand had conducted about 600,000 Covid-19 tests on a population of 69.7 million. The United Kingdom, by comparison, has carried out more than 18 million tests on a population only 1 million smaller.
Yet Thailand has only officially recorded 3,202 coronavirus cases 58 deaths and 58 deaths whie the U.K. standards at 288,000 cases and 44,650 deaths.
While critics claim Thailand’s number of cases is low because of a lack of testing, it’s harder to argue the fatality count, as Thailand’s overall death rate has fallen 8 percent since October, according to the Public Health Ministry, and “excess deaths”, or the number of fatalities over the historical average, is only 4 percent higher since the start of the pandemic, according to figures calculated by the New York Times.
“Thailand has always received criticism for testing too few, and that was the case at the outset because there weren’t enough test kits,” Songpon Deechongkit, managing director of Siam Bioscience, admitted in an interview with Bloomberg News. But the company has ramped up production of the most-accurate PCR – polymerase chain reaction – kits, supplying 100,000 kits since April with 100,000 more per month being stockpiled for the expected second wave.
Testing has focused on “high-risk” groups, those who worked with foreign tourists or in high-volume crowd situations, such as markets, and transportation hubs, as well as sex workers, taxi drivers and tour guides.
Songpon said the focus will continue to focus on the same demographics, but now is about “active surveillance” to spot infections before they turn into outbreaks that turn into epidemics.
Meanwhile, the country’s researchers are barreling ahead on development of a Thai-made coronavirus vaccine. Thirteen monkeys were injected with a vaccine candidate developed by Chulalongkorn University’s Centre of Excellence in Vaccine Research and Development two weeks ago.
If the primates’ immune systems again produce antibodies to the virus in sufficient quantities, the candidate will move to human clinical trials in October.
Thailand’s motivation for developing its own coronavirus solutions is the global crush for medicine and supplies. Bangkok doesn’t want to end up like India, which is suffering from soaring case numbers and a shortage of tests and PPE, as it relies entirely on imports.
Thailand is one of the world’s Top 5 suppliers of medical gloves and has been boosting production of surgical masks, face shields and gowns. The country last month saw the establishment of the first non-woven fabrics trade association and debuted a reusable plastic gown made of recycled materials.