Thailand’s public health officials are rumbling again about lockdowns and are ruling out Songkran celebrations and fully reopening the country’s nightlife until summer as they warn about Covid-19 cases surging to 100,000 a day.
“I understand many people are fatigued with Covid-19 restrictions and just want to live their lives but now is not the time to drop our guard,” one ministry official told a Thai media outlet Wednesday. ”The government is apprehensive about letting Songkran go full tilt given what happened last year so they want to contain this by the end of March.”
The Department of Disease Control warned this week that daily Covid-19 cases could reach 100,000 by mid-April unless disease-control measures are following more strictly.
Daily cases, including results of antigen tests, have hovered just under 50,000 for the past week. On Thursday, the Public Health Ministry reported 47,055 new cases, 23,618 of which were confirmed with RT-PCR tests. The ministry also reported 49 deaths and a testing positivity rate of 27%.
Ministry officials believe actual numbers are much higher, as infections caused by the coronavirus omicron variant are largely asymptomatic. The ministry said Wednesday that 95% of all cases now exhibit either no or only mild symptoms.
So why worry? And certainly why lock down or keep Thailand under excessive restrictions? Health officials argue that, while only 5% of cases may be moderate or severe, 5% of a large number like 100,000 a day is still a great deal of people flooding into Thailand’s hospitals.
That 5% could effectively collapse the health care system if the ministry’s worst-case scenario comes true.
So, lower-level public-health bureaucrats are again talking restrictions and lockdowns, specifically the closure of bars masquerading as “restaurants”, and the sale of alcohol anywhere except retail stores.
The big problem is that the pace of vaccinations in Thailand has slowed to a fifth of what it was at its peak. More than 10 million eligible Thais remain completely unvaccinated and 85% have not received a booster.
If new controls are imposed and the government can double its current vaccination rate to more than 400,000 jabs a day again, confirmed omicron cases could be kept to 27,000 or less.
Critical cases, seen growing to 3,200 a day by the first week of May, could be capped at 1,000 a day if “strict” controls are imposed, bureaucrats argue. Deaths, seen rising to 140 a day by early May, could be halved by restrictions on society.
And there’s no chance the full legal reopening of bars, clubs, karaoke and other nightlife venues will happen before May. Ministry officials said projected early May numbers above would double if nightlife fully reopened.
Of course, girls are dancing fully nude in Soi Cowboy and Phuket go-go bars, after-hours clubs like Penny Black are going until 3 a.m. and Bangkok hotel discos are pumping while Soi 11 remains largely dark. So it’s clear the “closure” of bars and nightlife is a farce and a joke.
Nightlife is already open, save for the very biggest venues. And the cacophony of voices calling on Thailand to end the charade and just reopen fully once and for all is growing.
Hotel and tourism industry representatives meeting at the “Thailand Tourism Leadership Summit” on March 1 called for the reduction of excessive preventive procedures and making travel to Thailand as simple as possible.
They want to see tourists needing only a vaccination certificate and pre-flight RT-PCR test to enter Thailand. The buggy Thailand Pass system, Covid-19 insurance, tracking applications, quarantine and on-arrival tests should be scrapped.
Minor International Chairman William Heinecke stated that the Thai government should immediately cancel the “Test & Go” in order to “fully open the country”.
“Now many potential tourists have laid an eye on Thailand but the government still makes it difficult to travel to, despite the fact Covid-19 is widespread in the country and these entry measures do very little,” Heinecke said.