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Prison Inmate Confirmed with Covid-19, Ending Thailand’s Streak at 100 Days

Thailand's streak of 100 days without covid-19 coronavirus ends

Special Report: 100 Days: Thailand’s Pandemic Report Card

(Updated 7:30 p.m.) – Thailand’s Public Health Ministry confirmed today that it confirmed the first locally transmitted case of Covid-19 in a prison in 100 days, ending the streak but prompting more questions about how the inmate contracted the coronavirus.

A nightclub deejay, 37, who worked at First Café on Khaosan Road as well as clubs on Rama 3 and Rama 5, the patient was routine tested for the coronavirus after being arrested for selling drugs and imprisoned on Aug. 28. The positive test result came back Sept. 2. He currently has only one possible symptom: a excess of phlegm.

As is standard procedures at Khlong Prem, the deejay was isolated with all new inmates for 14 days before being released into the general population. In his case, there were 34 others in a cell together. All the cellmates have tested negative for the coronavirus, so far. The group along with two volunteers and 30 prison guards now have been quarantined. Contact tracing is now underway to determine how many others – such as lawyers, court employees and police – he has been in contact with. The current estimate is 20 people.

The Khlong Prem Central Correctional Institution incarcerates 8,000 people.

The confirmed case ends Thailand’s streak of 100 days without a local case, but raises questions about how he contacted the disease inside a country that was thought to be clean of it.

“We can’t stay at zero cases forever…  We just need to follow social distancing guidelines. If we’re complacent, we’d likely find more cases.”

The deejay lived with five family members in a Bangkok condo. Family members and work associates at the various clubs are being tested. The government has activated its ThaiChana contact tracing app, advising all those who checked into the venues to get tested, which is free.

According to the man’s travel history released at the Public Health Ministry news conference, the deejay worked at two branches of the 3Days2Nights pubs. He did three nights in the past 14 days at its Rama 3 Road location and two nights at its Rama 5 Road outlet. He also played once, on Aug. 18, at First Cafe on Khaosan Raod. All three bars are now closing for three days for “cleaning”.

Department of Disease Control epidemiology chief Walairat Chaiyafu said the clubs had policies requiring mask use and social distancing. Whether the “mandatory” policies were enforced, he couldn’t say.

The question is, of course, how did the man contract the virus? The Public Ministry said it doesn’t know and is baffled as so the source since he has not left the country recently, although he had traveled to a province near Bangkok.

As a drug user perhaps he came into contact with a dealer in a network connected to Burmese methamphetamine suppliers? Or is it, as has long been suspected, that the virus has continued to circulate and simply not been reported.

There also has been persistent skepticism about the country’s official coronavirus statistics, including incidents in which Burmese migrants deported home tested positive, Thai and Japanese travelers testing positive in Japan and a Malaysian man testing positive after going back to Kuala Lumpur.

Expectations had been Thailand would mark its 101st Covid-free day Thursday when the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration released its daily report.

The CCSA earlier today reported two more imported cases of the coronavirus. One was a 22-year-old male student who arrived from Indonesia on Aug. 20 on the same flight as two previously confirmed cases.

He was quarantined in Chonburi Province and his infection was confirmed by his second test on Tuesday. The other was a 23-year-old female worker who arrived from the United States on Aug. 21 and was quarantined in Bangkok. Her infection was found by her second test on Tuesday. Both new cases are asymptomatic.

Health experts have been warning for weeks about the potential for a second wave.

“We can’t stay at zero cases forever but once we detected the case, we’ll act quickly to contain the spread,” Disease Control Deepartment Director-General Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai said at the 6 p.m. news conference at the Public Health Ministry.

“There’s no need to panic. We just need to follow social distancing guidelines. If we’re complacent, we’d likely find more cases.”

Thailand – and in particular foreign expats and tourists remaining in the country – have indeed become complacent about mask use and social distancing, as evidence by comments made on the Bangkok Herald’s Facebook page by farangs just today.

Too many have acted as if the country is immune from reinfection and acting intolerant of even a single infection, an attitude the government foolishly has reinforced. As we said in today’s Special Report, the streak was going to end. But even we didn’t think it would be today.