Thailand faces rising Covid cases post-Songkran, new Omicron subvariant emerges

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Health authorities have expressed concern over the increasing number of Covid-19 cases following the Songkran Festival, but they maintain that the situation is manageable.

The Department of Medical Sciences (DoMS) has identified 27 instances of a new Omicron subvariant, known as XBB.1.16, with one associated fatality. Virologists predict that this new subvariant will spread during the rainy season.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha acknowledged yesterday that the Songkran holiday was always likely to cause an increase in cases.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul encouraged individuals to receive a booster shot, as the vaccine can help prevent severe symptoms.

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He informed that the ministry is preparing an Emergency Operation Centre to provide care for Covid patients and assured that medical staff and equipment are in place to manage an increase in infections. Anutin said…

“Cases are rising, but severe symptoms are mostly seen in vulnerable groups with underlying health conditions or among those who are not vaccinated.”

Regarding the potential for new clusters, Anutin stated that there is no indication of imminent widespread infection.

Dr Opas Kankawinpong, the public health permanent secretary, echoed that the situation remains manageable. He said…

“Less than 20 Covid-19 patients across the country require oxygen support.”

Dr Opas mentioned that the World Health Organisation has not labelled the Omicron XBB sub-lineage a public health threat, but mutations are anticipated.

He added that there is no evidence that XBB.1.16 is resistant to antiviral medications such as favipiravir, molnupiravir, remdesivir, and long-acting antibody (LAAB) treatment.

Furthermore, a sub-committee on public health immunity has recommended annual Covid vaccinations, much like the flu vaccine.

Dr Opas encouraged people to receive the Covid booster shots before the start of the rainy season.

Dr Yong Poovorawan, head of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University, posted on his Facebook page that the new subvariant will likely spread during the rainy season, as with other respiratory illnesses.

He mentioned that XBB.1.16 is expected to soon become the dominant subvariant in Thailand.

DoMS director-general Dr Supakit Sirilak set the deadline for this transition as the middle of next month.

“By next month, we will have a clearer picture of whether the new variant could replace the current ones. But lab tests show it spreads faster than XBB.”

Symptoms of XBB.1.16 typically include a high fever, sore throat, and coughing.

From January to 14 April, XBB accounted for 30% of all cases, followed by XBB.1.5 (27.5%) and XBB.1.9.1 (15%).

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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