The number of cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in Thailand is rising, with 740 cases confirmed in 33 provinces, 489 of which have been imported into the country and the rest linked to local cases of infection, the Thai Ministry of Health said.
“Omicron is clearly spreading rapidly now, but it’s not really very scary,” said Dr Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences.
According to Dr Supakit, at least 108 countries have identified cases of this highly transmissible variant and all US states have reported cases of the omicron variant, indicating the need for ongoing monitoring of the variant’s development.
Bangkok has the highest number of cases of the omikron variant infection, as most tests are conducted in the capital after travellers arrive by plane at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Dr Supakit said.
On Monday and Tuesday, about 200 new cases of Omicron variant were confirmed, while the total number of reported cases of Covid-19 infection was about 5,000. Thus, Omicron variant cases accounted for 6 per cent of all Covid-19 cases detected during the same period, Supakit explained.
“Most, if not all, local cases of Omicron are due to previously introduced infections,” Dr Supakit said.
For example, in a large cluster of Omicron variant infections in northeastern Kalasin province, the number of confirmed cases has risen to more than 200, while at least four people in northern Lampang province have also had the variant confirmed, with their infections linked to the Kalasin cluster, the doctor said.
The outbreak of the Omicron variant in Kalasin was found to be caused by a married couple who had returned from Belgium. They had reportedly dined at a bar and restaurant in Kalasina without realising they were infected with the Omicron variant.
In response to growing concern over whether tissue face masks can protect against the Omicron variant, Dr Supakit explained that all face masks capable of protecting people from previous variants still work.
“It is even more important to wear them properly now,” the doctor added.
While the focus is on identifying the Omicron variant, the Department of Health Sciences is selectively testing people infected with Covid-19 for other variants to ensure effective surveillance of coronavirus mutations in the country, Dr Supakit explained.
Such selective tests are conducted not only on foreign tourists arriving in the country, but also on people living in border areas, patients with Covid-19 who develop severe symptoms, and clusters of infections with unusual characteristics, the doctor added.
DNA sequencing has been carried out in a number of cases and the data obtained from the genetic examination process is being shared with international scientists through the global scientific initiative Gisaid, Supakit said.
Gisaid is a global scientific initiative established in 2008 that provides open access to genomic data of influenza viruses and the new coronavirus responsible for Covid-19.
The Covid-19 Situation Centre on Wednesday reiterated the need for civil servants to strictly comply with the requirement to work from home for a fortnight after returning from the New Year holidays.
The measure is aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19, said Situation Centre spokesperson Dr Thavisilp Visanuyothin, adding that private companies are also advised to apply the measure for the same reason.
While Bangkok continues to register the highest number of daily Covid-19 infections, the northeastern provinces are listed among the 10 provinces with the highest number of new infections, Dr Thavisilp said.
This shows the worsening situation of Covid-19 in northeastern Thailand. People travelling to the region are advised to exercise extra caution to protect themselves from infection, Thavisilp added.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha urged people to be especially careful during New Year celebrations, always wear a mask and try to avoid crowded places.
In response, Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang signed a December 28 order extending until January 15 the November 29 order to shut down nightlife entertainment venues, including pubs, bars, massage parlours and karaoke.
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