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Thailand News Today | Songkran will go ahead…but with what restrictions?

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The Thai government says Covid ain’t stoppin’ this year’s Songkran celebrations but insists that disease prevention measures will need to be followed. What that means for the mass water fights that were emblematic of the pre-pandemic celebrations remains unclear for now.

According to a, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has given the green light for interprovincial travel and “all related activities” over the Thai New Year holiday, between April 13 and 15. However, spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana adds that the PM wants everyone to comply with disease prevention measures, – that is, Vaccination, Universal Prevention, Covid-free settings, and ATK testing.

The CCSA meets on March 18 to agree on the measures that will apply to the Songkran holiday period, with the PM suggesting everyone taking part in water-throwing parties should have received a third vaccine dose and should also take an ATK test before and after travelling.

High-risk groups, including the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women, are also being urged to ensure they’re fully vaccinated ahead of the holiday. Thanakorn says the public must continue adhering to measures such as social distancing, wearing face masks, and hand-washing. What that looks like in the middle of a full-scale water battle is not clear.

In related news, Dr. Opas Karnkawinpong from the Department of Disease Control says he believes Covid infections have peaked in Thailand, as the number of cases has dropped in recent days. Yesterday, Thailand reported 18,943 new cases and 69 deaths, taking the Covid-19 death toll in the kingdom to 23,369.

A number of business owners in Pattaya say they were duped into buying fake documents to certify that they meet standards set by Thailand’s Safety and Health Administration.

When authorities inspected their businesses, they discovered the SHA+ documents had been fabricated. Some say they even paid thousands of baht to have the certification process expedited.

Around 20 business owners from the Jomtien – Pattaya Entrepreneurs Club met the Pattaya Deputy Governor to complain that they had paid a high price for SHA+ certificates and other business documents, which they later discovered were fake. They say a person who identified themselves as a Pattaya official would ask for 3,000 to 45,000 baht for services to help expedite the SHA certification process. The authority also offered business licenses and other documents.

One business owner says a person who claimed to be a Pattaya official offered him a way to fast-track the certification process, saying he would need to pay an “operation cost” for the service. Since many in Pattaya have been suffering over the past two years due to the lack of foreign tourists, the business owner agreed to pay a price for the certification to open sooner.

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The deputy governor admitted that some documents processed by Pattaya City Office took time due to the detailed inspection and assessment process. The deputy governor went on to say that a committee will investigate the complaints from business owners and those involved in issuing the fake documents will face punishment.

Even though 6,000 Russian and Ukrainian tourists are stuck in Thailand due to the current crisis, Thailand’s ambassador to Russia said Thailand needs to form new tourism tactics for them.

The ambassador told reporters that Thailand should adapt tourism to help with Russians’ needs in the current crisis. One idea he suggested was an app to let Russians use digital money or cryptocurrency. This week, Mastercard and Visa suspended services in Russia, and to cards issued in Russia being used abroad.

Thailand’s Foreign Minister confirmed Thailand will do its best to support both Russians and Ukrainians stranded in Thailand, particularly those having problems with international money transfer services. The Thai government said yesterday that over 7,000 Russian and Ukrainian tourists affected by flight cancellations will be allowed to extend their visas free of charge. The government is also offering the tourists shelter and access to a Chinese payment platform.

Meanwhile, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Yuthasak Supasorn, says most of the over 7,000 tourists from Ukraine and Russia are in Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi, and Pattaya. Those who need to extend their stay can do so without having to pay the usual 1,900-baht fee.

Russians made up the biggest group of tourists in Phuket in December, and over 17,000 of them arrived on the Island that month. They were also a major part of tourism since the pre-Covid days. But as of this Monday, there were only 2,763 Russian tourists in Phuket.

Patients who test positive for Covid-19 after using an antigen test kit no longer need to take a PCR test to confirm the result.

Suphakij from the Department of Medical Sciences says the requirement for a follow-up PCR test is expensive and time-consuming. In addition, the generally mild nature of the Omicron variant has removed the need for people who receive a positive ATK result to take a PCR test. The exception is people in high-risk groups who should still seek a PCR test and hospital treatment.

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According to a Nation Thailand report, Suphakit says proper samples should be collected in the case of both ATK and PCR testing. For ATK testing, this means using a nasal or saliva swab. If using saliva, this should be collected first thing in the morning, before brushing teeth or using mouthwash. The sample should be taken from deep inside the throat.

The new guidelines stipulate that patients who receive a positive ATK result and who are asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms, should isolate at home or receive hospital treatment as an outpatient. If symptoms worsen, these patients can get a PCR test ahead of being treated in the hospital. People who receive a negative ATK result do not need to quarantine but should take another ATK test within 3 days or if they develop symptoms.

Meanwhile, PCR testing will remain in use at international border checkpoints, but Suphakit adds that machine-based ATK tests or faster RNA tests could also be used.

Thai police say the body of cricketer Shane Warne is in Bangkok, awaiting repatriation to his native Australia.

Warne died of a suspected heart attack last Friday, while on holiday on Koh Samui. He was 52 years old and had a history of congenital disease, according to a Reuters report.

Deputy police spokesman Kritsana says Australian consular officials are now working on having his body repatriated. It’s understood the body will remain at the Police General Hospital until a flight has been arranged.

The Australian embassy in Thailand says officials are making arrangements to fly the cricket legend’s body home and that any media inquiries should be directed to the Australian foreign ministry in Canberra. The ministry has stated that it is assisting Warne’s relatives and would not comment further, calling for privacy for the family.

Australian PM Scott Morrison has led tributes from around the world, declaring Warne “one of our nation’s greatest characters”.
Meanwhile, media reports in Australia say a memorial service will take place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground around 2 or 3 weeks after the family funeral.

Television network The Nine Network reports that the Great Southern Stand will be renamed the SK Warne Stand in honour of the cricketer, who took his 700th wicket there in 2006.

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