Covid cases a warning shot
After several months without reports of any further Covid-19 cases, the northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are now at risk of becoming infection hotspots after three new cases were detected this week.
All were women who had worked at an entertainment venue in Myanmar's Tachileik town where Covid cases have been widely reported. They sneaked into Thailand through the natural border in Mae Sai district on Nov 24. One woman boarded a bus to Chiang Mai and although she had developed some flu-like symptoms, she did not self-isolate. Instead, she went around the city, visiting a department store, seeing movies, and partying with friends at a pub. It wasn't until her condition worsened that she thought to seek medical aid at a local hospital.
The other two women were residents of Chiang Rai. They had mostly stayed put, and had only limited contact with the general public, before the infections were confirmed.
The Chiang Mai case caused particular alarm as it was reported that over 360 people had come into contact with the 29-year-old woman in just a few days. Of this number, more than 105 are thought to be at high risk of having contracted the virus, including friends that shared a cigarette with her, 40 bus passengers from Chiang Rai, 55 bar staff and six people from a department store they shopped at. Health authorities have tested and placed all those in this group under monitored home self-isolation.
It will take around two weeks to confirm whether the Chiang Mai woman was a super spreader and if a province-wide lockdown should be imposed.
However, authorities are well aware that a fresh lockdown in Chiang Mai would also deal a heavy blow on the province's tourism sector which is already struggling under the weight of a massive downturn in foreign arrivals.
As of Monday, Chiang Mai authorities were still denying that ta lockdown will be needed.
Every official and department involved in preventing and mitigating against the spread of Covid-19 must have the efficacy of their work assessed to make sure any further infected individuals are not able to wander so freely before effective protocols funnel them into being tested.
The private sector, too, must be considered a key part of this net, and insistence on temperature checks and social distancing cannot be allowed to wane, as appears to have happened in this case.
Chiang Mai and particularly Chiang Rai, as a frontline province where Thais are expected to return in droves as Covid cases in Tachileik continue to rise, must prepare for the worst. On Monday, it was reported that eight men and women were nabbed while trying to cross the border in Mae Sai district. There must be many who pass through undetected.
Chiang Rai needs to strengthen its capacity to cope with people returning to Thailand. This should include preparing local quarantine sites to accommodate returnees and increasing the number of staff tasked with monitoring those asked to self-isolate.
All agencies must not only make use of the existing network to make sure the returnees come back through legal checkpoints, but more resources must be directed at curtailing the burgeoning people-smuggling business that has sprung up to assist illegal border crossings.
While the rest of the country need not panic, yet, these cases must be a reminder that it won't take many more to spark a second domestic wave of the virus.
So, no more leniency must be the message if further economy-ravaging lockdowns are to be avoided.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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