Virus choices stark, say experts

Virus choices stark, say experts

Contain spread, or 'end up like Italy'

Thailand now faces the dilemma of ending up like Italy with a soaring number of Covid-19 patients overwhelming hospitals or becoming like Japan which has been able to contain the spread of the virus, a noted medical expert has warned.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Monday the current situation still did not warrant invoking emergency rule to curb the virus spread. However, the cabinet will today consider whether other necessary measures should be implemented.

As Thailand recorded 122 new Covid-19 cases, raising the total to 721 as of Monday, Dr Prasit Watanapa, dean of the faculty of medicine at Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, said people must stay home and stop socialising or Thailand risked ending up like Italy.

He said the number of people with Covid-19 in Thailand was soaring, just like European countries that have been unable to control the spread.

He blamed people who visit virus-risk venues such as boxing stadiums and pubs, and refuse to self-isolate.

Countries that failed to control the disease saw Covid-19 cases rise from 100 to 200 in three days. That increase in Thailand took 3.5 days, Dr Prasit said.

"If we do nothing, we will become a country that is unable to control the disease," he said.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Thailand was rising by 33% daily, similar to Germany. At this rate, the number of infections would reach 351,948 by April 15, Dr Prasit said.

Of them, 52,792 would be hospitalised, and the number of critically-ill people in ICUs would be 17,597, and that would exceed the country's medical resources, Dr Prasit said.

Deaths would then total 7,039 by April 15, he warned.

"That would be like the situation in Italy. Decisions would then have to be made whether to treat someone, or not. I do not want that to happen," Dr Prasit said.

Supplies of solidarity: Medical supplies, including surgical masks, N-95 respirators, test kits and protective suits arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday. The supplies were donated by the Chinese government to fight the spread of Covid-19 in Thailand. (Photo by Chinese Embassy Bangkok)

Countries and territories that have been able to control Covid-19 were Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, he said.

To keep the number of Covid-19 patients within the country's capacity to treat them, the increase in local cases must be limited to 20% daily. If this can be achieved, the number of infections would be only 24,269 by April 15, Dr Prasit added.

This is the target to be achieved, so even if the projected figures are no better than those in Japan and Singapore, the situation would not get out of hand like with several countries in Europe, he said.

"To achieve this, people must stay at home, do not socialise... If you must go out to buy food, you must wear a mask, go the shortest distance and return home as fast as possible," Dr Prasit said.

"Talking normally to another person produces droplets that travel about one metre. So people must stay at least two metres apart. When you are talking to people, you must wear a mask. Wash your masks daily," he said.

"A communicable disease cannot be transmitted if people do not make contact. Home is the safest place, unless there is an infected person."

Following this practice would limit the case increase rate to less than 20% a day, or at 32.7 new cases a day. "It is difficult, but still possible. It must start today, or it will be too late," Dr Prasit said.

With strict social distancing, the number of new cases would start to fall in four weeks, he said.

He also called for a complete ban on visitors from abroad, saying thermal scans do not work because many infected people do not have a fever during the initial period of infection.

Dr Prasit estimated the Covid-19 outbreak would continue in Thailand for about nine months.

Dr Supakit Sirilak, deputy permanent secretary for public health, echoed the view, saying that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has jumped rapidly over the last couple of days.

Any country with the daily number of infections exceeding 100 is likely to continue to see cases soar, and Thais must make a decision about which direction the country will take.

"Will the country become like Italy or Iran which have seen the numbers of infections now soar to tens of thousands. With such rapid increases, the problem is that public health systems are not able to treat them, leading to high death rates. Or will Thailand become like Japan, Taiwan and Singapore whose numbers of infections rose and have slowed," Dr Supakit said.

Dr Supakit said that Thais still have a "golden period" to decide whether to stay home and stop going out socialising or follow the same path as in Europe.

"After the government ordered closures of pubs and bars, some people have still gone out and gone drinking. If people in society do not cooperate, the government may have to impose a lockdown and ban everyone leaving their homes, which we do not want to happen. Therefore, the people still have a choice," Dr Supakit said.

He also warned those planning to leave Bangkok and return their homes in the provinces, now that there has been a "soft lockdown" of the capital by the Bangkok governor, to protect themselves as they are at risk of contracting or spreading the virus at bus terminals or during their journeys.

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