Experts warn Thailand not immune to second wave of Covid-19

PHOTO: Kelvin Yup on Unsplash

Despite its seemingly successful suppression of the Covid-19 virus, medical experts say Thailand is not immune to a second wave. Thiravat Hemachudha, director of the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Centre, says the country cannot afford to let its guard down, adding that it is too risky to become lax about hygiene measures.

“First and foremost, Thais have become convinced that the country is completely free from Covid-19 cases and are now lowering their guard. By not wearing a face mask, frequently washing hands, and maintaining social distancing, they have built risks.”

Thailand has now gone 83 days without a case of community transmission of the virus, but Thiravat says it’s simply not possible for the Kingdom to be completely free of a virus that only emerged 6 months ago and is continuing to wreak havoc around the world. He says the only explanation for Thailand’s statistics is that infected people are not displaying symptoms.

“Young people who are still healthy may not show any symptoms after getting the virus. But though asymptomatic, they can spread the disease.”

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He warns that doing away with social distancing requirements on public transport heightens the risk of transmission, as does letting young children return to school, given the challenge of keeping them apart.

Tanarak Plipat from the Disease Control Department agrees, saying Thailand’s chances of experiencing a second wave of the virus remain high. He says the focus should not be on having zero cases, but to control the spread of the virus as much as possible. To do this, he says the public must change the way they view the virus and accept the need to live with it.

“If we detect Covid-19 infections in Thailand, we must try to ensure the outbreak is controlled and does not spread widely. Actually, even after a Covid-19 vaccine is made available, the disease will still be around. It’s just that precautions and vaccinations will prevent Covid-19 from overwhelming hospitals.”

Tanarak points to Vietnam, a country that seemed to have Covid-19 under control, until a sudden resurgence a few weeks ago. The country has now had 964 cases and 24 deaths. Hong Kong’s Covid-19 response was initially highly praised, but the territory has already had to battle a second wave of the virus, and now finds itself in the midst of a third. Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand too are dealing with a worrying resurgence of Covid-19.

Tanarak says lessons must be learnt from these incidences, saying people must continue to wear face masks, wash their hands regularly, and avoid crowds. He emphasises the need for remote working where organisations can facilitate it, or flexible hours where they cannot.

“Closed, air-conditioned places have a 19 times higher risk of Covid-19 transmission than outdoor spots.”

He says tracking and testing is in operation, as was evidenced in Rayong following the visit of an infected Egyptian soldier, and that health authorities have sourced additional personal protective equipment to deal with a second wave. This includes 1.12 million N95 face masks, over 500,000 sets of PPE and 11,000 ventilators.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Maya Taylor

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