Quarantine quandary

Quarantine quandary

The government should adopt a precautionary approach before reactivating the quarantine-free Test & Go programme.

Winning back foreign visitors and revitalising the economy are imperative. However, the health and safety of the public should still be the primary concern at this point.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has said that he will ask the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to consider reopening the country under the quarantine-free Test & Go scheme.

The programme was abruptly suspended following the outbreak of the Omicron variant in late December.

Mr Anutin's rationale was that it was important to bring back foreign travellers and revive the economy as soon as it was relatively safe to do so.

He reasoned that, while the Omicron strain may be spreading very quickly as was predicted, it has caused only mild symptoms so far in most cases, resulting in fewer hospitalisations and deaths than the previously prevalent Delta strain.

The question is, has the fifth wave of the outbreak reached its peak yet?

The Ministry of Public Health said earlier that the best-case scenario would see the outbreak hits its peak before it is brought under control in about one or two months.

Thailand detected the first case of Omicron in early December. In less than a month, infections caused by the new strain had leapt to more than 2,000 a day.

The first fatality was only reported last week, closely followed by a second. Both were elderly patients with underlying diseases.

While it is true that infections of the Omicron strain are rising fast -- initially surpassing even the worst-case projections -- fatalities have been much lower than predicted.

Even the best-case scenario expects to see about 10,000 new infections a day with 60-70 fatalities.

The country logged 6,397 new Covid cases yesterday and 18 more deaths.

The numbers have dropped slightly from 8,500 new cases and 19 deaths last week.

However, there is no indication that the situation has stabilised yet.

The downward trend is only seen in the number of new cases, and only over the past few days. Meanwhile, the number of fatalities keeps ranging daily despite averaging 0.94%.

So while there is cause for optimism, it seems too early for the country to lower its guard.

Since only about 65% of the population have been fully vaccinated, with some 10% receiving a third booster dose, there is still work to do to get more people vaccinated and keep them protected against the Omicron strain.

The fact that Omicron seems to produce milder symptoms could be a mixed blessing. While only 49 cases were officially detected through active testing yesterday, the true number could be far higher with new clusters being formed.

There is no question that the Test & Go programme is a convenient and relatively safe way to win back overseas visitors and revitalise the tourism sector, and there is no doubt it will have to be restored sooner or later.

The key issue is the timing.

This programme should only be restored when there is clear data showing that the rate of new Omicron infections has passed its peak and the strain has been safely contained.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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