Thailand reported its fewest number of new Covid-19 cases in more than five months Tuesday, but all anyone can talk about is the threat of another lockdown.
All the news on the kingdom’s coronavirus battlefront for the past week has been good, with new daily cases coming in below 5,000 six of the past seven days and totals dipping into the 4,000s. Then, on Tuesday, the government reported 3,525 new cases and 31 deaths, the least since June 23 when there were 3,174 and 51 deaths.
It should be noted case numbers reported on Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be low due to slow local reporting on the weekend. And this was a three-day holiday weekend, so the total may not reflect all provinces.
Nonetheless, the positive trend should be one people are celebrating. Instead, the only thing on anyone’s lips is the latest Greek letter to grace a coronavirus variant: omicron.
The Ministry of Public Health announced Monday the discovery of Thailand’s first omicron case in an American who had traveled via Emirates Airlines from Spain and transited in Dubai for nine hours.
The patient currently displays almost no symptoms and is under the close supervision of health officials.
Department of Disease Control Director-General Opas Karnkawinpong said the American man had been living in Spain for one year. He had been fully vaccinated with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson drug and his pre-departure RT-PCR came back negative before entering Thailand on Nov. 29.
The on-arrival RT-PCR test administered in accordance with Thailand’s Test & Go entry pathway came back positive, however, a result confirmed on Dec. 1.
Lab tests pointed to a 99.92% probability of the Covid-19 strain present in the patient to be the omicron variant.
Opas said a re-test was ordered in order for authorities to be 100-percent certain about the infection being of the omicron variant. He added that the patient displayed almost no symptoms and had been very diligent in observing public health precautions.
Authorities have deemed there were no individuals who had high-risk exposure to the patient, as he went from the airport to his quarantine hotel to the hospital.
Opas noted that the case shows that vaccines are still effective, and will reduce the severity of symptoms and the number of deaths from Covid-19.
It also shows that Thailand’s entry system is working. The infection was found before the tourist entered the general population, as designed.
Given the government’s perchant for kneejerk reactions and quick triggers on lockdowns, panic spread across the country again, with widespread speculation the government could again shut down the borders and the country, including postponing the reopening of the nightlife next month.
Business leaders urged the public not to panic over the discovery the omicron case, saying another lockdown would be disastrous for the economy.
Chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries Supant Mongkolsuthree said lockdowns are not the answer and that Thailand must “figure out how to co-exist” with the virus, as is being done in the west where there are exponentially more cases and deaths, yet life has returned to near-normal in many places.
Pointing to the steady downward trend in new daily cases and deaths, Supant said “we are heading in the right direction. People should not panic, otherwise the economy will not survive”.
Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, agreed, saying another lockdown will scare away tourists and that omicron will become even less of a threat when the millions of unvaccinated Thais get their shots.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o- cha has no plans for a lockdown as he’s confident in the current screening process for visitors and the ability of the kingdom’s health system to fight the pandemic.
Any changes to current policies and measures regarding Covid-19 would have to be discussed at the next meeting of the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, the spokesman said.
Thailand is the 47th country to detect the omicron variant of the coronavirus.