Thailand’s worst-case scenario on Aug. 1 is now its best-case hope for September as the public continues to flout a partial coronavirus lockdown amid a sluggish vaccination rollout.
The quasi-lockdown in 29 provinces, which includes at 9 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew, the closure of most non-essential businesses, suspension of interprovincial airline, bus and train services and a plea to remain home during daylight hours, has only reduced transmission of the coronavirus by 20 percent since it was imposed July 12 in metropolitan Bangkok and the Deep South, the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration said at a news briefing Friday.
While the lockdown – which was expanded to 20 other provinces in the weeks since – has failed to arrest the rise in daily cases, it has slowed their rise, said CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin. Models show that, without any mitigation, the virus would infect up to 70,000 people and kill 800 a day by Sept. 7.
If the restrictions continue to be 20 percent effective, he said, the first week of September will see 45,000 daily cases a day, along with 500 deaths.
Tragically, 40,000 daily cases was the “worst-case” scenario laid out by the CCSA on July 31. That briefing, where officials pleaded with people to take the calamitous third wave more seriously, predicted 500 daily deaths by September. If people complied strictly with the lockdown, Taweeslip said two weeks ago, daily cases by mid-September should only reach 30,000.
Now, 30,000 cases a day seems a given before the end of August. The Public Health Ministry on Saturday reported 22,086 cases and 217 deaths, a day after recording 23,418 cases and 184 deaths.
It’s increasingly obvious the government should have gone full-tilt lockdown from the outset of the third wave in April, which would have stopped the outbreak in its tracks but only crippled the country for weeks, instead of months.
Instead, the government on Monday will meet again to decide whether its semi-lockdown needs to be tightened incrementally again.
If people continue to travel needlessly during the day, host drinking parties at home and throw lock-in parties at shuttered bars and restaurants, perhaps a solid, enforced, all-day stay-at-home order is needed. After all, the CCSA said that if the current restrictions had been just 5 percent more effective at reducing transmission, daily cases would have stayed below 20,000 and deaths under 200.
On the other hand, more than four months of incrementally tigher restrictions have caused catastrophic damage to both the national economy and nearly every individual’s personal finances and/or mental health. Four consecutive days of street protests stand testament to Thais’ loss of patience with the government’s incompetent management of the Covid-19 epidemic. And the weak compliance to current restrictions illustrates the extent of the country’s pandemic fatigue.
So, unbelievably, the CCSA is considering actually easing restrictions, but only to stores selling information technology and and communication devices, general merchandise and household electrical appliances to reopen inside shopping malls.
Lockdown, however, is not the cure to flattening the curve, let alone ending the epidemic. For that, 85 percent of the population – not 70 percent as is often stated – must be vaccinated against Covid-19.
That goal is a pipedream and one not reached by any country in the world right now. Especially since only 7 percent of Thais and expats are fully vaccinated. While the country did post three days this week of more than a half-million doses administered, the pace slows to a crawl on weekends and the kingdom’s copious number of holidays.
As a result, the delta variant, which is now the dominant coronavirus strain in Thailand, continues to ravage the population. Taweeslip said that, since April 1, 185 pregnant women became infected with Covid-19 of whom 28 died. More than 350 public-transport drivers have been infected since May 1 and, of those, 104 died.
He urged those who have not yet been vaccinated to get a shot as soon as possible, a laughable suggestion when there is nowhere near enough doses to go around.
“If we work together more closely, we can flatten the curve of infections,” Taweeslip said.