Medical chief backs reopening

Medical chief backs reopening

Preventing Covid-19 forever is 'unrealistic'

The empty Samui Airport during the tourism slowdown last month. (Photo by Dusida Worrachaddejchai)
The empty Samui Airport during the tourism slowdown last month. (Photo by Dusida Worrachaddejchai)

The director-general of the Department of Medical Services is backing the proposal to reopen the country to revitalise the virus-battered economy.

Dr Somsak Akksilp said that not only was Thailand well prepared for a second wave of Covid-19 but that maintaining zero local infections was an unrealistic target since it was still not known when a vaccine would become available.

"We cannot afford to maintain zero cases forever," Dr Somsak said. "We need to reopen the country. The country must move forward and people have jobs to do.

"This means we may have to see a small number of infections but if we work together to prevent them, the country will be able to achieve a balance between public health and the economy."

He said the Public Health Ministry wanted to reassure the public that the medical system was well-equipped to detect and control the disease.

Dr Somsak said 2,000 beds were already available across the country for Covid-19 patients. Bangkok could treat up to 400 patients per day and the rest of the country 1,000-1,700 patients per day, he said.

"We have upgraded our medical system," Dr Somsak continued. "We won the first round because of the trust between the people and doctors. We believe we will get through this."

Sophon Mekthon, chairman of the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO), said that it had ensured enough supplies of face masks, N95 masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) in the event of a second wave of Covid-19 -- and more could now be produced locally.

In particular, the GPO had been working with the Thai Textile Manufacturing Association and the Department of Science Service to make high-quality equipment, Dr Sophon pointed out.

Opas Karnkawinpong, acting director-general of the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said it had about 1,000 rapid investigation teams and planned to triple the number.

The aim was to control any further waves of infections within three to four weeks, reduce the death rate to below 1.4% and increase each province's ability to deal with Covid-19, Dr Opas said.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, meanwhile, pointed out that the mandatory quarantine period for tourists was still 14 days and had not yet been reduced to 10 days since further studies were needed.

Regarding the government's special tourist visa (STV) scheme, the ministry has assigned 12 Alternative Local State Quarantine facilities in Phuket, Surat Thani, Buri Ram and Chon Buri, plus a further 84 Alternative State Quarantine facilities in preparation for the country's reopening.

Phuket had been preparing to receive its first group of tourists from China who were expected to arrive this week under the STV scheme aimed at supporting Thailand's economic recovery.

A group of 120 Chinese tourists and businessmen had been scheduled to arrive in Thailand on Thursday, but their trip has been delayed.

Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn confirmed that the initiative to welcome foreign tourists back to Thailand under the STV scheme will proceed as planned, though it might be delayed due to paperwork.

He confirmed the tourists in the STV scheme will be able to come to Thailand by the end of this month.

It's part of the conditions of the STV that they had to pay first, Mr Yuthasak said.

There's no need for refunds because their trips are not cancelled, they are only delayed, he told Thai media earlier.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday declined to elaborate on the matter saying the TAT governor had already clarified the issue.

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