Thailand embraces the last month of 2022 not with a winter breeze but with a surge in Covid-19 cases -- a result of a dip in temperatures and increased crowd gatherings, not to mention loosened preventive measures against the infectious disease.
According to statistics from the Department of Public Health, Thailand now sees almost 5,000 new Covid-19 cases per week, an average of around 700 new cases per day. Approximately 10 deaths are recorded as a daily average. Despite official figures, the actual number could be far higher.
The Department of Medical Sciences said 58% of recent patients were infected by the Omicron BA.2.75 subvariant, which was spreading rapidly.
The majority of the new cases involve the elderly and those with chronic diseases, including those who have not been fully vaccinated, according to Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, permanent secretary of the Public Health Ministry. He, therefore, encourages people to have booster Covid-19 shots to increase immunity, especially if the latest shot was over four months ago.
How long shall we live with Covid-19? When is the disease -- now declared endemic -- going to disappear?
These questions remain unanswered.
Despite ongoing worries and Covid-19 doubts, Dr Yong Poovorawan, director of the Center of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, recently predicted in a Facebook post that a new outbreak won't be as severe as those in the past given increased immunity amongst the public due to vaccines. As of now, Thais have had a total of 143 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Around 77% of citizens have got two shots.
Despite the rise in new cases in Thailand, Dr Yong ensures that the country continues to move forward and that Thais will be able to celebrate New Year.
Sure an assurance from a medical expert sounds like music to people's ears. But it's not enough to make people feel at ease. With more than 500 people currently being hospitalised with lung infections and over 300 on respiratory tubes, people do need more than those sweet words to make them feel safe.
We must admit that herd immunity is not easily achievable as people first expected because the infection can always reoccur in people even though they have been infected or vaccinated before.
Therefore, the picture of people wearing no preventive masks on the street and in public places as they are all immune is not something we should expect to see -- at least not yet.
So although public health authorities say a seasonal Covid-19 spike may only be a small wave, strict preventive measures should still be put in place because even though symptoms are now not as severe as those seen from earlier waves, Covid-19 patients are likely to fall prey to long Covid which leaves them chronically sick for months, if not years, after infection.
On a personal scale, family members -- especially those living with small kids and the elderly -- should ensure they are protected when they go out. Public gatherings are possible but be sure to evaluate the risks and keep your distance.
International travel is also possible but it is paramount to keep personal hygiene and wear masks at all times, especially when on board an aircraft.
People, especially the elderly and those with underlying chronic diseases should also consider getting a Covid-19 shot or booster to at least keep conditions at bay when they get infected.
People should keep themselves updated with Covid-related news and situations via reliable sources. And to ensure a healthy disease-free New Year, let's make all the above a Covid resolution.
On a public scale, healthcare providers have learned many lessons from the past waves. By now they should be fully prepared especially in light of the upcoming festive celebrations and gatherings. The availability of healthcare essentials must be ensured including hospital beds, medication, treatment, and even healthcare personnel.
And in the meantime, people should be told the truth about the situation. After all, the truth won't cause paranoid thoughts. Ambiguity will.
World-renowned medical expert Dr Anthony Fauci said earlier that the coronavirus pandemic won't end with the elimination of the virus. Covid-19 will never go away. And because it is going to be with the world's population just like the flu, the best action people and countries can take is to be careful and be prepared.
Given the current situation, masks and alcohol sprays are still important weapons for us to sail through 2023 despite being surrounded by the virus.
Arusa Pisuthipan is the editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.