Vaccine promise doesn't mean guard can be let down
When it comes to Covid-19, Thais might think they have a few reasons to celebrate. First, the country made a record of 102 days without domestic transmission. The slow rising curve in infections is the result of returnees importing the infection from abroad, however, they are made to stay in state quarantine facilities.
The country has also made great strides when it comes to developing a vaccine, especially after the head of the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Centre, Dr Thiravat Hemachudha, announced recently that results of a vaccine candidate in lab animals were satisfactory.
The said vaccine, which will be developed by a Thai startup company called Bai Ya, makes use of protein from tobacco leaves, which are easy and cheap to acquire. The jab has so far been tested on mice and monkeys and has shown promising results. The next step now is to go through a purification process before testing on humans can begin.
Sounds like cause for optimism, doesn't it? Local transmission is under good control and a vaccine is on the way. Moreover, surgical masks and sanitising alcohol gel, which were once extremely scarce and expensive are now widely available almost everywhere at better prices. Additionally, people can now also travel domestically and the local economy seems to be gradually gathering steam.
However, many countries across the globe are now declaring war against the second wave of infections that is likely to hit harder than the first round. This begs the question: is it the right time for Thailand to loosen its grip on the situation?
If we look around, we can see that the country is lowering its guard quickly -- almost as if the war against the virus had already been won. Many restaurants, for example, no longer have partitions between customers and social distancing is no longer strictly enforced while queuing in front of eateries or elsewhere.
Many people have also stopped scanning the Thai Chana QR code to check in and check out at places. At certain shopping malls and hypermarkets, temperature checking services are no longer a common sight at entrance and exits. Furthermore, salad bar customers at supermarkets can now scoop their preferred vegetables into a plastic bowl without having to wear gloves. These are just a few examples of many preventive measures that -- once very strictly enforced -- are now being ignored.
Last month, the Ministry of Public Health revealed results of a survey that showed that Thais have become less careful when it comes to Covid-19 prevention, especially in terms of wearing protective masks and ensuring physical distance of at least 2m while outside.
Scientists, virologists and epidemiologists in many countries across the globe including Thailand have made grim predictions about the potential effects of a second wave that could be more deadly than the first. Beside expert warnings, Thailand still has many lessons to learn.
Take South Korea as an example, which confirmed the second wave of Covid-19 infections, according to a BBC report. While the country initially enjoyed success in curbing the number of cases, a second wave hit in May after clusters of new cases emerged, including outbreaks at nightclubs in Seoul. Last month, The Korea Herald reported that the worse wave of infections was now underway and that the outbreaks at churches in Seoul were spreading to the rest of the country, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, in-person services as well as public gatherings are banned at all churches in the capital.
Spain is another nation still struggling to control a surge of new virus cases amid a second wave. Late last month, the Spanish Health Ministry reported that over 9,600 new cases had been detected in the country -- the largest spike the nation has seen since it entered a second wave of the outbreak.
Luckily, Thailand is yet to enter such an intimidating phase. However, there is no guarantee that we won't, especially with infections rising in neighbouring countries such as Myanmar. This means we all have to be more vigilant than ever before.
While Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the authorities are doing their job to make sure security is being tightened along the Thai-Myanmar border to prevent more infections from entering Thailand, the public must also do their part by raising the old, familiar guards against the deadly virus.
After all, we have not won the global war against the virus -- at least not yet.
Arusa Pisuthipan is the editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Deputy editor of the Life section
Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.