Covid lessons from abroad
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Covid lessons from abroad

Thailand plans to waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and four other tourist destinations -- Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Hua Hin, Phetchaburi -- from Nov 1 to vaccinated foreign visitors.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry has added some specific tourist destinations in several provinces for additional reopening called "blue zones", including Phuket, Krabi, Phangnga, Surat Thani, Buri Ram and Prachuap Khiri Khan. Under the plan, some tourist areas will reopen even if the rest of their province has not.

As it embarks on the plan, the government should learn from recent Covid-19 infections among a group of 25 twice-vaccinated Israeli tourists in Iceland. This shows authorities must carry on taking precautions.

The case of the Israeli tourists was unveiled in research titled "High attack rate of Covid-19 in an organised tour group of vaccinated travelers to Iceland" published in the Journal of Travel Medicine on Sept 28.

Of the 25 tourists, 21 contracted the virus despite negative pre-flight PCR tests and the fact they had completed vaccination, according to the research. Some tested positive when they were in Iceland and others tested positive after returning to Israel.

The group travelled to Iceland for a 12-day tour in early August. All were given two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, mostly in January, and all had PCR tests within 72 hours of departure.

Israel was one of the first countries to complete a nationwide vaccination programme after cutting a deal with Pfizer to receive a large number of vaccine doses before many other countries, sharply decreasing infections in the country.

Travelling in Iceland, the Israeli tourists were taken by a long-haul bus with closed windows most of the time. The bus was driven by a local driver who had received two jabs.

This high breakthrough infection rate is attributed mainly to close and prolonged exposure during their long bus trips. Masking, distancing, and personal responsibility are required to avoid such outbreaks, the research said. No one knows where the travellers contact the virus, whether from Israel or Iceland.

One member of the group is believed to have contracted the disease on the flight to Iceland and the infection spread to a few others outside the group, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Regardless of where it was, Thai authorities should take a lesson from this episode that Covid-19 vaccines, despite recent advances in mRNA technology, cannot prevent the risk of virus infection and transmission.

Pre-PCR tests from countries of origin are not a guarantee of Covid-19 free travel either. Either tourists or residents can spread the virus to each other if they do not obeserve universal preventive measures.

The reopening scheme will involve risks of new outbreaks even if both locals and tourists are fully vaccinated. This is because the effectiveness of vaccines against the delta variant has declined compared to the original variant and immunity from vaccination will reduce over time.

Thailand, particularly in provincial areas, has a limited number of ICU beds and the government started the vaccination process late. Even if the country achieves its 70% vaccination target, health experts remain in doubt whether herd immunity can be achieved against the delta variant.

Ahead of the reopening for tourists, an effective plan is needed to prevent the virus spreading and further infections taking hold.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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