What does new Level 4 alert mean for Thailand?
The fifth wave of COVID-19 pushed Thailand’s alert level to 4 in the first week of 2022 as the ultra-transmissible Omicron variant spread nationwide. People across the country are raising their guard to prevent overloading the healthcare system, which would come with lethal consequences.
On January 7, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) added another 30 provinces to the Orange zone of control, increasing the number to 69 from Jan 9.
What are the restrictions?
Alert Level 4 allows stricter restrictions including a ban on restaurant dining and large gatherings, but the CCSA has so far only closed entertainment venues such as bars, pubs and karaoke joints.
In Chiang Mai and most other provinces, entertainment venues will remain shut until further notice. The plan to let them open for restaurant services from Jan 16 has been canceled for now.
Meanwhile, alcohol can be served in restaurants and “restaurant-like” venues until 9pm in the eight Blue zone provinces including Bangkok and Phuket, as well as the pilot tourism covering parts of 18 other provinces.
Entertainment venues allowed to re-open can face closure or other penalties if they fail to comply with COVID Free Setting rules and trigger cluster infections.
COVID Free Setting rules stipulate that venues must be well ventilated, with all staff fully vaccinated and all, including musicians, screened with antigen test kits every three days. Customers must show proof of vaccination and test negative via ATKs before entry.
Five COVID-19 alert levels
In late 2020, with daily infections well below 1,000, Thailand set four alert levels based on the COVID situation’s severity. They were Level 1 (Green), Level 2 (Yellow), Level 3 (Orange), and Level 4 (Red).
The same color code was applied to provinces.
Level 1 signifies zero local transmission. The alert level is upgraded when infections rise and put pressure on hospital beds. Level 4 is triggered when the number of daily infections rises beyond 900 and hospital-bed occupancy touches 80 percent.
Last May, however, the soaring number of cases prompted authorities to add another level, 5 (Dark Red) to the alert hierarchy to cover the worst-hit provinces.
What’s in the details?
In late November, the COVID wave subsided and Dark Red restrictions were lifted. Last month, the alert level dropped further to Level 3, with provinces removed from the Red zone. However, the trend reversed dramatically with the arrival of Omicron, the most transmissible variant to date.
Though the Level 4 alarm bell has been sounded, the CCSA has not yet declared any province as a Red or Dark Red zone, preferring to adopt a wait-and-see policy.
What each level means
Level 1 means businesses can operate with COVID Free Setting measures in place. Travel, including international arrivals, is allowed under COVID-19 controls.
Level 2 places limits on the normal capacity of air-conditioned venues and events.
Level 3 brings closure of at-risk venues and encouragement to work from home. People traveling between provinces must be tested and international arrivals are confined to sandbox schemes.
Level 4 means only venues necessary to daily life can stay open. Working from home is the norm and non-essential inter-provincial travel is suspended. International arrivals must quarantine.
Level 5 imposes extra restrictions including a curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than five people. Interprovincial travel is controlled and foreign arrivals must quarantine.
Thailand and the rest of the world must now wait and see whether the government decides to roll out more restrictions in the coming weeks to reflect the new Level 4 alert.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk