Expert warns of high chance of wider COVID-19 outbreak during Songkran
Thailand’s new COVID-19 infections are expected to increase rapidly during the two weeks following the Songkran holidays, especially now that the UK strain of the virus is spreading, according to Dr. Prasit Watanapha, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, speaking during a recent live interview with Thai PBS World.
High chance of wider spread during Songkran
“Right now it’s not a good time to have this UK strain” he said.“Because of the Songkran festival, we can expect people to travel from one province to another, and we will see a lot of people enjoy going to entertainment complexes, as happened this week. So there’s a higher chance that there will be a wider spread of COVID-19. “
In light of the recent outbreak, Dr. Prasit reiterated that, right now, it is not safe to travel back to home provinces, as he explained how infected cases, especially asymptomatic ones, can put their families at high risk.
Dr. Prasit said an asymptomatic infected person will put others at high risk, and he doesn’t think the government will set other regulations to prevent inter-provincial travel.
“I mean, you can visit your parents anytime, but it should not be at this moment,” he said.
No expectations from 1% vaccination
Dr. Prasit said, right now, Thailand has inoculated less than 1% of the population. So, there’s nothing we can expect from the COVID-19 vaccination. He explained that the only way we can try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to use social intervention; physical distancing, hand cleansing and the use of face masks.
Government’s disease control measures
Dr. Prasit said that the government is on the right track byimposing restrictions, such as closing night entertainment venues in 42 provinces, “but it is not enough.” He strongly believes that it is necessary to impose further restrictions, as there is no exact information as to the percentage of COVID-19 infections of the UK strain among people in Thailand.
“70% of only 20 people in the Thonglor cluster have the UK strain, but it doesn’t mean that the UK strain has infected 70% of the total number of COVID-19 cases in Thailand.”
What do we know about UK strain?
Dr. Prasit explained that the UK strain of the coronavirus, detected in the entertainment venue cluster in Bangkok’s Thonglor area, may have first slipped into Thailand with aCOVID-19 infected family returning from the United Kingdom earlier this year.
“[The family] would have gone through strict state quarantine for 14 days, and they were proved to have the UK strain of the virus. There’s no clue [how] the UK strain got into the Thai community.”
The UK strain appeared last March-April, he explained, and this strain can spread more rapidly than the original strain, whichwas detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019.
“But if we look at the severity [of the symptoms] in people who get the UK strain, there’s no significant increase, compared to the original Wuhan strain. So, we know that this strain can spread more rapidly than the original Wuhan strain, but there’s no difference in the symptoms.”
Chances for more mutations
The coronavirus will have more chances to mutate if the world is not quick enough in getting people vaccinated, according to Dr. Prasit.
“In fact the World Health Organisation declared, a couple of weeks ago, that we are not being fast enough. At least 25% of the population in any country [should] be vaccinated, in order to have a positive effect.”
He also noted that the world is falling back into the situation where one million new cases are found every two days, which is the same rate as before vaccines were broadly available “Because the virus mutates faster than we can get people vaccinated.”