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Covid-19 returns to Thailand – sixth wave announced

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Bangkok is bracing for the sixth wave of Covid-19, with the number of new cases in the Thai capital once again exceeding 10,000 a day

Rising cases of the coronavirus in Thailand are threatening the public health system as the spread of the newly emerging sub-variant BA.5 Omicron has forced Bangkok to declare a state of high alert for a new outbreak of Covid-19.

While the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) says it is ready to deal with the new wave of the epidemic, the city could be facing tens of thousands of covid patients by the time the outbreak peaks in late August, said Yong Puorawan, head of the Centre for Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University School of Medicine.

BA.5 sub-variant raises concerns

Dr Yong said a change in the common covid strain from the BA.2 Omicron sub-variant to the BA.5 sub-variant was behind the recent spike in coronavirus infections in Thailand.

“As the BA.5 sub-variant has the ability to evade protection against the virus following vaccinations and infections, it is by far the most infectious covid strain as it can infect those who have already been vaccinated or previously treated for infection,” he said. “Thailand will face the sixth wave of the outbreak, in which we will see higher infection rates than previous waves.”

The BA.5 sub-variant was first detected in early January this year in South Africa. Since then it has spread rapidly and become the main covid variant in many countries around the world and has been seen in Thailand since April. It now accounts for about 26.1% of tested samples, according to a genomic study of covid cases in Thailand conducted last month by Mahidol University’s Centre for Medical Genomics. Most of the BA.5 sub-variant samples were from the Bangkok metropolitan area.

Dr Yong estimates that as the number of Covid cases in Thailand continues to rise, tens of thousands of new infections per day are likely by the end of August. “As this round of the Covid-19 epidemic occurred immediately after the resumption of on-site education in public schools across the country for the first time since being blocked in 2020, the virus will easily spread to students in schools. It could then spread further to their families and infect large numbers of people.”

Data from Bangkok City Hall on covid infections in the Thai capital over the past week shows that around 2,000-3,000 new infections have been reported every day using the RT-PCR test, and around 5,000-6,000 more cases have been detected using the ATK test. “This strain can cause serious symptoms in vulnerable groups, so we need to make sure they get a booster vaccine and can access medication once infected,” he added.

Bangkok ready to take on Covid-19 challenge

Following the outbreak of the BA.5 Omicron sub-variant in the capital, Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt said he had ordered four initial measures to deal with the surge in infections. They include adding an extra working day for all 69 public health centres within the capital’s administration on Saturdays, opening vaccination booths at the centres every Friday and Saturday, active screening for Covid-19 in schools and an active vaccination campaign targeting vulnerable groups.

“Bangkok City Hall focuses on primary care and health promotion and has 11 hospitals under its wing, accounting for 11 per cent of the total number of hospital beds in the city,” Chadchart said. “City Hall is not the sole administrator of Bangkok’s public health system. Therefore, we have to work closely with other stakeholders such as the Ministry of Health, medical schools, the armed forces and the police.”

He also urged people to remain vigilant and strictly observe Kovid-19 preventive measures, including wearing masks in public places. The mayor said the city administration was working with the ministry and the state pharmaceutical organisation to prepare medical supplies for covid patients and provide a support system for patients with mild symptoms who are in home isolation.

Although there are still available hospital beds for inpatients with coronavirus in Bangkok, the number of new patients needing inpatient treatment in Bangkok has risen to around 1,000 a day. Consequently, the Erawan Urgent Care Centre has been designated as the focal point for transferring patients between hospitals and ensuring proper management of hospital beds.

Meanwhile, Natjiraporn Dang-iad, vice-president of Sirindhorn Hospital under the BMA in Pravet district, said the number of kovid patients seeking medical attention had increased, though most of them had very mild symptoms and only 5 per cent needed hospitalisation. She added that the hospital could still accommodate more patients with coronavirus infection, although many hospital staff were also infected with Covid-19, putting pressure on staff.

“To begin with, we are understaffed, so when many of our staff get sick, we are not able to take all the patients. That’s why we would like to ask people to take Kovid-19 prevention measures seriously to prevent transmission to others,” she said.

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