Thailand’s third wave of COVID-19 dampens Songkran festivities
A third wave of COVID-19 infections hit Thailand hard this week, with hundreds of new cases detected on a daily basis in an outbreak that has impacted the highest echelons of government.
On Wednesday, Transport Minister and Bhumjaithai Party secretary-general Saksayam Chidchob tested positive for the virus – very likely because one of his team members was infected. He becomes the highest-ranking official in Thailand to have contracted the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease.
Other government figures may be at risk given that Saksayam rubbed shoulders with Bhumjaithai leader Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul at a merit-making ceremony for their party on Tuesday. Also present at the event were all Bhumjaithai MPs as well as Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Chalermchai Sri-on and several MPs from the Democrat Party.
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob is confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, after he developed a fever of 38oC and was admitted to Buri Ram Hospital for observation and tests on Wednesday morning. The minister has already received his first inoculation against COVID-19 and is due to receive the second dose today.
Saksayam’s case came to light just days after Japanese ambassador Nashida Kazuya came down with COVID-19.
During the past week, several high-profile figures from various other sectors have also confirmed they are infected. Among them are famous singer Apiwat “Stamp” Eurthavornsuk, actor Nutchapan “PePo” Paramacharenroj, and Nadao executive Jongjit Inthung.
Before testing positive, Apiwat performed at a concert for the Government Housing Bank’s press trip last Saturday. The bank’s president Chatchai Sirilai, several employees and reporters present at the concert are now self-isolating along with a raft of figures from the entertainment industry.
Government public relations chief Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd has also been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is receiving treatment at Phramongkutklao Hospital. He was reportedly infected while playing football with friends.
In the field of sports, national badminton player Bodin Issara announced on Wednesday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and offered an apology to those who might be affected.
Meanwhile, several international schools in Bangkok closed for deep cleaning earlier this month after infections were detected among staff members or students’ parents.
Latest COVID-19 situation
The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) announced 334 new cases on Wednesday (April 7), bringing the total number in Thailand to 28,069. As of press time, 1,741 COVID-19 patients were being treated while Thailand’s accumulated death toll stood at 95.
Only seven of the new cases on April 7 were found in state or alternative quarantine. More than 66 percent of the new COVID-19 patients are in Bangkok.
These figures suggest that the disease is now spreading among Thais rather than among the Myanmar migrants blamed for the second wave that started in December.
Thailand’s top virologist, Dr. Yong Poovorawan, says the current rate of COVID-19 infection is more serious than a year ago and suggests that the tradition of visiting the elderly, to receive their blessings, be replaced with virtual visits, to reduce the risk of infection.
Bad news ahead of Songkran
The surge of COVID-19 infections comes at a bad time for Thailand. The Songkran holiday period from April 10-15 will trigger a mass exodus of workers from Bangkok and other cities back to their hometowns. However, the festive mood has been dampened this year by the rising threat of the pandemic, which has infected 132 million people around the globe and killed 2.87 million. The Thai stock market dropped 23.10 points on Wednesday as the third wave of COVID-19 took hold.
Renowned virologist Dr. Yong Poovorawan is now urging people to consider skipping Songkran trips so as to minimize the risk of transmission. Usually, millions of Thais travel by road and train to celebrate the traditional Thai New Year with their relatives.
“If you visit your elderly relatives and spread the disease, it is not going to be good,” Yong pointed out. “If possible, make ‘virtual visits’ and avoid unnecessary trips.”
Yong added that while COVID-19 controls had to be loose enough to ensure the economy does not crash, it was crucial for people to not lower their guard. Promoting tourism at the expense of effective measures against the virus could backfire, he warned.
“No tourist will go to a place that has suffered an outbreak of COVID-19,” Yong said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha also instructed his ministers to set the right tone for the public by avoiding parties or entertainment venues.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk