South merits special care
As the Prayut Chan-o-cha government is determined to reopen the country on Nov 1, it needs to take into account the pandemic situation in the South, where the outbreak situation remains volatile.
Under such circumstances, the region should be provided with the resources it needs such as vaccines and health supplies, to make sure the outbreak will not get worse.
While the Covid-19 outbreak in other parts of the country is stable, the situation in the South particularly in Pattani has been worrying, with steadily rising infections. As of Sunday, Pattani, where 566 new cases were recorded, ranked number two among the top 10 provinces with the highest infection rates.
Yala, with 493 cases, came third, while Narathiwat (473 cases) and Songkhla (467 cases), were fifth and sixth, respectively.
Covid-19 infections in the four southern provinces, making up 22% of the country's total, surpassed Bangkok and its satellite provinces where a vaccination campaign that is well under way has led to better pandemic control.
The Public Health Ministry is worried that without such control, there could be a sharp rise of infections, possibly 1,000 cases daily, in Pattani. If that is the case, a further lockdown may not be avoidable.
According to the Pattani Health Office, the province has seen small infection clusters scattered in most villages. All clusters began with transmission within families, and as people relaxed following the easing of restrictions last month, they joined mass gatherings, causing the infection to spread within communities. The health office also noted that such transmission patterns are hard to contain.
More importantly, the inoculation campaign is proceeding sluggishly as most local people have refused Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines, preferring other brands.
Therefore, only 35% of the targeted population in Pattani has been fully vaccinated, while health authorities are trying to accelerate the campaign to ensure 70% full vaccination is complete by the end of this month. The Bangkok-based Disease Control Department said it has allocated 500,000 doses of Pfizer to the area where all three variants, Beta, Alpha and Delta, are dominant. It said those already jabbed with AZ will get fully vaccinated with an additional Pfizer shot.
Due to shortages of medical staff and health facilities, the outlook in the southern provinces is not promising. In addition to any vaccine issues, active case finding is necessary, but this is difficult given the lack of test kits. Three months from now there will be many more vaccines available that offer longer immunity and better resistance against the Delta variant, such as Pfizer, AZ and Moderna, or about 25 million doses a month.
That requires vast and efficient distribution, or the country may face another wave of the pandemic. It should be noted that it is economic concerns that are forcing the reopening, not because the virus has been subdued.
So the government must closely monitor the southern outbreak and do its best to contain it. The Prayut government, while warning people not to be too relaxed, must practise what it preaches: keep up its guard, and ensure that all the debacles that caused the previous waves will not be repeated.
It must apply stringent measures to ensure those in at-risk sectors, especially businesses that depend on migrant labour, as well as entertainment places, respect the laws and keep more outbreaks at bay.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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