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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Passengers leave Yokohama virus ship, China toll tops 2000

Jack Burton

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Passengers leave Yokohama virus ship, China toll tops 2000 | Thaiger
PHOTO: People still in quarantine on the deck of the Diamond Princess in Yokohama yesterday - AFP

Passengers onboard the Diamond Princess, the coronavirus-wracked cruise ship which has been quarantined in Yokohama’s harbour for two weeks, began disembarking today after testing negative for the disease that has now claimed more than 2,000 lives in China.

The ship proved a fertile breeding ground for the COVID-19 coronavirus, with at least 542 positive cases, the largest cluster of confirmed cases outside of China. There is mounting criticism of Japan’s handling of the quarantine as passengers prepare to return to their home countries.

Disembarkation is expected to take around three days as more test results become available. Anyone who has had contact with an infected passenger will have to undergo 14 more days in quarantine.

In addition, the crew will begin a new quarantine when the last passenger has disembarked.

New figures in China today showed the death toll surging beyond 2,000 with more than 74,000 infected. Hundreds more cases have been reported in two dozen countries.

For about 500 passengers allowed to disembark after testing negative, their difficult 14-day quarantine period is over after their dream cruise became a nightmare of fear and crushing boredom,in many cases confined to small windowless cabins.

“NEGATIVE! Me, son, husband, mom and dad! Thank you Lord for protecting us… So emotional now,” tweeted one passenger, who has been cooped up with her six-year-old son. But not everyone was so lucky.

British passenger David Abel, who became a minor celebrity with his upbeat video messages in the early days of the quarantine, including a cheeky request to the captain for whisky, personified the mood shift aboard.

“It’s all getting to us now and it’s not just me, it’s the other passengers as well. It’s the not-knowing factor that is the real challenge. Mentally, it’s now taking its toll. Right now, it’s very hard to remain focused on anything.”

He later announced he and his wife Sally had tested positive.

China announced today there were 1,749 new infections, the lowest number of new cases this month. All but 56 were in the epicentre of Hubei province.

Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme, said the outbreak was “very serious” and could grow, but stressed that outside Hubei, it is “affecting a very, very tiny, tiny proportion of people.”

There have been 900 cases around the world, with five deaths in France, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Several countries appear to have lost patience with the onboard quarantine and have prepared chartered planes to bring back their citizens. In the first such evacuation Monday, more than 300 Americans flew home even though 14 of them had tested positive.

Early Wednesday, South Korea flew six of its nationals plus a Japanese spouse to Seoul. They will be placed in isolation for 14 days, according to the Yonhap news agency. reported.

Britain, Hong Kong and Australia are among other countries that have vowed to repatriate people from the ship but will insist on a further 14-day quarantine on home soil.

SOURCE: AFP

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

2 police officers transferred over Covid cluster linked to Bangkok nightlife

Maya Taylor

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2 police officers transferred over Covid cluster linked to Bangkok nightlife | Thaiger
PHOTO: Gerry Popplestone / Flickr

2 senior police officers in Bangkok’s fashionable Thonglor district have been transferred pending an investigation into a Covid-19 cluster linked to pubs and clubs in the area. According to Thai PBS World, the superintendent of Thonglor police station, Duangchote Suwancharas, and the inspector for suppression affairs, Thanakorn Ngamyen, were re-assigned to the operations centre of the Metropolitan Police Bureau’s 5th Division yesterday.

The transfers were ordered by the commander of the 5th Division, Sophon Sarapat, who has placed Kampanart Arunsri in the role of acting superintendent of Thonglor police.

The pubs and clubs of Thonglor are popular with “Hi-So” Thais, including celebrities, politicians, business figures, and senior government officials. The third wave of Covid-19, currently surging across the country, is thought to have sprung from Thonglor’s party scene. Revellers at the district’s nightlife venues are being blamed for a rapid rise in infections which has now led to over 1,000 infections in Bangkok alone. The highly contagious UK variant, aka B117, was also detected in the Thonglor cluster.

Bangkok officials are planning a number of field hospitals to cope with a rise in infections that may lead to bed shortages in the capital’s hospitals. Several facilities in the city have suspended Covid-19 testing amid speculation they have run out of beds. Everyone who tests positive for the virus is admitted to hospital for quarantine and treatment purposes, even if asymptomatic. This is believed to be contributing to the bed shortage, but officials say they have no intention of changing a policy that has previously enabled them to contain the virus more effectively.

A new field hospital is set to open near Bangkok City Hall at the sports stadium in the Bang Bon district today.

Officials say 3 other field hospitals are ready and a number of hotels, many of which have already served as alternative state quarantine facilities, will also operate as “hospitels”, housing asymptomatic patients and those with only mild symptoms. City officials say that between them, the field hospitals and hotels can accommodate up to 5,000 patients.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

China may combine its Covid-19 vaccines to improve efficacy

Maya Taylor

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China may combine its Covid-19 vaccines to improve efficacy | Thaiger
PHOTO: Jernej Furman / Flickr

Health officials in China say they may consider combining vaccines to boost their efficacy, after admitting the protection rate is “low”. In a rare acknowledgment of weakness, Gao Fu from the Chinese Centres for Disease Control and Prevention admitted the country’s vaccines do not offer high levels of protection. He was addressing a conference in the south-western city of Chengdu at the weekend.

According to a Thai PBS World report, China has 4 Covid-19 vaccines and the country plans to produce 3 billion doses by the end of this year. However, data shows that although strict temperature requirements govern their storage and transportation, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines far outperform their Chinese counterparts in terms of efficacy. As a result, Gao says researchers in China are now considering combining their vaccines. They may also look at altering the number of doses required and/or the amount of time between doses.

“Inoculation using vaccines of different technical lines is being considered.”

The Chinese-developed Sinovac jab, currently being rolled out in Thailand, was found to be just over 50% effective in trials involving the Brazilian variant, although a separate Turkish study found it to be 83.5% effective.

Meanwhile, the efficacy rate of a second vaccine, made by the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation, aka Sinopharm, is not known. However, the manufacturers say they have developed 2 vaccines and that interim results show them to be 79.4% and 72.5% effective.

Officials in China have long defended the country’s vaccines, while casting doubt on those developed by other countries. Chinese vaccines are the only ones being administered in China and the country has also exported millions of jabs around the world.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Songkran

Sawasdee pi mai – The four days of Songkran 2021

Tim Newton

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Sawasdee pi mai – The four days of Songkran 2021 | Thaiger

Despite the annual celebrations, water fights and parties being mostly side-lined this year, Songkran goes on for 2021, albeit in a much-subdued form. Many Thais have decided not to head home, but others have already headed out of the city centres to their homes to be with their families. They are being confronted with new restrictions and delays as they reach home province with many provincial officials now imposing quarantine or negative Covid tests to cross provincial borders.

And today, the Bureau of the Royal Household announced the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald will be closed from April 13 due to the current rise in new Covid infections. Other royal palaces are also closed until further notice including Bang Pa In Summer Palace.

Even airlines are having to stop their food and beverage services, again. A January CAAT ban was only lifted a month ago (but some of the discount airlines will still ferry you to your flight in a cramped bus!).

The best we can do for Songkran 2021 is be happy, smile at our Thai hosts on their special day, buy an outrageously colourful Songkran shirt from a road vendor and say Sawasdee Pi Mai to everyone we meet. Let’s do our best to add a few smiles to Songkran this year.

Here are some of the original traditions for the Thai New Year celebrations…

Tuesday, April 13 – Wan Sangkhan Lohng

On this day residents clean their houses in preparation of the New Year’s festivities. Many provinces have street parades and gatherings at temples or get-togethers at relative’s homes.

Wednesday, April 14 – Wan Nao

In preparation for the Buddhist celebratory merry-making the following day, people spend this day preparing cooked meals and preserved cuisine. Buckets of sand were commonly collected and brought into the temples to construct sand chedis, or sand shrines that are then decorated.

Thursday, April 15 – Wan Payawan

As the first day of the New Year, people would gather in the early morning at the wat to offer the food prepared the previous day along with new robes, fruit and other goods to the temple monks. In the past, this was the day where subdued water play began.

Friday, April 16 – Wan Paak Bpee

On the last day of Songkran, people paid their respects to their forebears and poured scented water over the hands of their elders who would then bless those taking part in the celebratory tradition known as rod ‘naam daam hua’.

Sawasdee pi mai - The four days of Songkran 2021 | News by Thaiger

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