‘No winners’ in Thailand’s fresh lockdown offensive against COVID
Thais across the country are suffering the impact of a semi-lockdown after restrictions were expanded from 13 to 29 provinces and extended until at least August 31.
Concern is now growing that the lockdown restrictions – which cover a ban on dine-in services and closure of many categories of business – could drag on much longer as the fourth wave of COVID-19 rages on unabated.
The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) said it will evaluate the situation every two weeks.
The Public Health Ministry estimates that without lockdown measures, the COVID-19 death toll will skyrocket from 178 on August 2 to nearly 600 per day over the next three or four months.
Such a grim outcome would also overwhelm the country’s health system, in turn placing patients battling other diseases at greater risk. However, the Public Health Ministry forecasts it should be able to keep COVID-19 deaths below 200 per day if semi-lockdown continues and vaccination among the elderly progresses well.
“In its bid to prevent hospitals from collapsing under the weight of COVID-19, the country has rolled out several measures that in turn affect people’s living, work, and finances,” Medical Council secretary-general Dr Ittiporn Kanacharoen said. “In this war, there is no winner. There are only losers. But the patience and sacrifice made by all sides will matter.”
Semi-lockdown in effect
For provinces under semi-lockdown, the government has issued a work-from-home directive for all state and private organizations except those in the fields of public health, disease control, public utilities, traffic, disease mitigation, and public order. The semi-lockdown also features a curfew banning people from leaving home between 9pm and 4am.
They may leave their homes during the daytime – but only for necessary errands, medical treatment, work that cannot be done from home, and vaccination. If they need to travel out of their area, they must seek permits from relevant officials or register at checkpoints. Gatherings of more than five people are banned.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced today (Monday) the extension of COVID-19 restrictive measures, including closures of several venues and delivery-only service for eateries located in shopping malls, until the end of August, following the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration’s (CCSA) extension and expansion of lockdown measures.
More provinces covered
On July 19, Bangkok, Chachoengsao, Chon Buri, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Narathiwat, Pathum Thani, Pattani, Ayutthaya, Yala, Songkhla, Samut Prakan, and Samut Sakhon were declared Dark Red zones under strictest disease controls. These 13 provinces have since gone into lockdown.
However, with COVID-19 infections rising quickly, 16 more provinces were placed under semi-lockdown on August 3.
They are Kanchanaburi, Tak, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Prachin Buri, Phetchaburi, Phetchabun, Rayong, Ratchaburi, Lop Buri, Sing Buri, Samut Songkhram, Saraburi, Suphan Buri and Angthong.
With the daily caseload soaring past 15,000 and 150 deaths in recent weeks, the Public Health Ministry expects the lockdown measures to be no more than 25 percent effective. Its best-case scenario in the current situation is for the two-month semi-lockdown to curb the reproduction rate by 25 percent, giving time for vulnerable elderly people to boost their immunity by getting vaccinated. In this scenario, the daily COVID-19 death toll will remain below 200 for the rest of the year.
But what if lockdown measures cut transmissions by 25 percent for two months but the vaccination rate among the elderly is lower than expected? In this scenario, the death toll will rise to 200 by October before soaring higher, the ministry estimates. The number of new infections will peak at around 25,000 a day in November and then falter, according to its projection.
Without any lockdown measures, the Public Health Ministry predicts that COVID-19 would infect up to 45,000 people and kill nearly 600 people per day at its height next month.
This worst-case scenario would send Thailand’s COVID-19 resilience ranking tumbling again this year. Thailand now sits in 161st spot among 180 countries ranked on the global COVID-19 Index (GCI), which tracks the severity of and recovery from the pandemic. The Kingdom now ranks behind virus-wracked poor countries such as Zimbabwe and Bolivia. Singapore is the best ASEAN performer on the list, in 2nd spot.
A vast majority of Thai people still have serious concerns about the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. The level of happiness, among people in Bangkok and the newly designated ‘dark red’ provinces, has decreased by 2% from June, according to a survey conducted by the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living ASEAN (Thailand) in collaboration with Socius.
‘Too strict last year, too late this year’
Thailand was too strict with lockdown measures last year but too late with lockdown restrictions this year, according to Kiatnakin Phatra Bank’s KKP Research.
Last year, the daily caseload peaked at only 188 new infections. Despite this low figure, the lockdown was imposed nationwide with severe economic impacts.
This year, daily infections and deaths have soared almost 100 times higher, yet the government has decided against invoking strict control measures to combat the fourth wave of COVID-19.
When doctors urged lockdown measures in March at the start of the third wave in Thailand, the government hesitated in the face of complaints and warnings from the business sector. It also decided not to ban travel during Songkran in April. Since then, COVID-19 has spread with increasing deadliness and rapidity.
Between April and June, the Alpha variant remained the dominant strain, driving the increase in new COVID-19 infections and deaths. Yet, its frightening potency was dwarfed by the Delta variant that is now spreading quickly through Thailand.
KKP Research predicts that lockdown measures will remain in place longer this time, hitting businesses and daily life hard. The restrictions also look set to intensify if current measures fail to rein in the COVID-19 outbreak.
The research house expects the lockdown to last for at least three months. As a result, it forecasts the economy will grow by no more than 0.5 percent this year. Next year, it forecasts just 3.7 percent growth, assuming a worst-case scenario in which COVID-19 cuts tourist arrivals to just 3 million. In other words, growth achieved in 2021 and 2022 will still not compensate for the 6.1 percent contraction to Thai GDP in 2020 alone.
Recommendations for Thailand
KKP Research recommends that the government transparently assess the situation, plan ahead, and communicate with the public to promote mutual understanding and reduce confusion. It also calls for rigorous active-case finding and procurement of mRNA vaccines that are highly effective against the Delta variant.
It suggests too that the government provide adequate assistance to citizens and businesses to prevent permanent damage to the Thai economy and maintain the stability of the financial sector.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk