Thailand’s plans to fully reopen in doubt as virus cases rise

A monk wearing a protective mask walks a walkway amid a new wave of Covid-19 infections in Bangkok,

Thailand was seen as a success in the fight against the virus last year

Thailand’s plan to reopen the country to foreign tourists in around 100 days has been questioned as it sees a new spike in Covid cases.

Some 7,000 cases and 75 deaths were reported Thursday, a daily record for the country.

Thailand has seen success in the fight against the virus last year, with cases falling to single digits at one point.

But a spike in cases, linked to the highly infectious Delta strain, means its plans may have to be put on hold.

The increase in cases has put a strain on the country’s medical system – reports suggesting many hospitals are already running out of beds for critically ill patients.

Authorities announced earlier this week that they plan to convert a terminal at its airport into a field hospital with an intensive care unit. The hospital will provide at least 5,000 beds.

Hopes of tourism dashed by the increase in cases

Once a bustling vacation hotspot, Thailand’s tourism industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha last month set a 120-day goal for the country to fully reopen, with all businesses returning to normal and freeing for vaccinated tourists to travel across the country.

He said Thailand could not “wait until a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with two injections, or the world is virus-free, to reopen.”

Earlier last week, Thailand opened its doors to its first batch of tourists without quarantine in Phuket.

International passengers receive coronavirus covid-19 swab test at test booth after arriving at Phuket International Airport

International passengers arriving at Phuket International Airport

About 2,000 travelers have entered since the start of the “Phuket Sandbox” – the island’s tourism revival plan.

Phuket reported its first overseas case of Covid-19 on Wednesday – a man traveling from the United Arab Emirates.

Most of the country’s cases, however, can be traced to the capital Bangkok.

Experts say the only way out is through a lockdown. Stricter curbs have been placed on restaurants and city construction sites, but a full lockdown has so far been avoided.

“A strict lockdown is the only way out,” Dr Anan Jongkaewwattana, director of the research unit at the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, told Bloomberg.

“If this situation continues, Thailand’s epidemic will be worse than Indonesia’s on a per capita basis, with up to 20,000 cases per day over the next few months,” he said.

People wearing face masks walk past fruit stalls in Bangkok's Chinatown on May 1, 2021

Bangkok is not yet under strict lockdown despite an increase in cases

But some companies say they can’t stand other blockages.

“Yes [my restaurant] shut up, what am I going to do? Am I going to have to give up everything I have built and lay off all my staff? “A restaurant owner told the BBC.

The country is also battling on the vaccination front – falling short of its monthly vaccination target of 10 million doses. Earlier last week, a senior health official admitted that only 5 to 6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available in Thailand.

The director of the National Vaccine Institute said the country should source vaccines from other manufacturers in order to meet its target.

According to Jonathan Head of the BBC in Bangkok, the public is growing unhappy that the government has not ordered enough vaccines – with vaccines running out in many areas.

About 15% of the Thai population has received at least one dose of the vaccine – 4.3% of that total having received both injections.


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