The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration is considering a longer mandatory quarantine for returnees arriving from Africa, in a bid to stem the spread of a fast-spreading variant of the novel coronavirus that was first detected in South Africa.
The South African variant, named "B1351", requires closer monitoring as it is known to spread more quickly, which could worsen the outbreak in Thailand, said the CCSA's assistant spokesperson, Apisamai Srirangson.
"We might need to increase the mandatory quarantine for returnees from Africa to 21 days," she said.
Dr Apisamai revealed the plan in response to the discovery of the South African mutation in a 41-year-old infected Thai returnee who flew in from Tanzania for business.
The man returned to Thailand on Jan 29 and entered state quarantine, where he tested positive for Covid-19 on Feb 3.
However, it wasn't until Feb 12 that health authorities determined the man was infected with the mutated variant of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the Dean of Siriraj Hospital's Faculty of Medicine, Prasit Watanapa, insisted that the antiviral drug favipirapir, also known by its brand-name Avigan, can be used to treat patients infected with the South African variant, although no study has confirmed its efficacy.
Favipiravir is an antiviral medication used to treat influenza in Japan that has been prescribed to treat Covid-19 patients in some countries.
Prof Dr Prasit also said he is considering to ask each hospital to re-check swabs provided by Covid-19 patients, saying the government may need to change its tactics if the B1351 variant turns out to be more prevalent in Thailand than initially thought.
The B1351 variant was first detected in South Africa in Oct last year. Since then it has been found in more than 30 countries.
Similar to the UK variant, it quickly outcompeted other Sars-CoV-2 variants in South Africa. It now accounts for more than 90% of Sars-CoV-2 samples in South Africa that undergo genetic sequencing.