Bang Khae markets shut
Swift action allays fears about Songkran
Authorities have acted to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Bang Khae district of Bangkok by shutting six markets for three days as City Hall extends mass testing in affected areas.
The surge in infections is, however, unlikely to lead to the government axing Songkran celebrations for a second year in a row as the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) prepares to this week finalise anti-Covid measures for the annual festival.
Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang confirmed on Monday that City Hall would extend the proactive screening of vendors and staff at six Bang Khae markets and people in nearby areas until March 26.
The six markets are Sirisetthanont Market, Bang Khae shopping centre market, Kitti Market, Phasom Market, Talat Mai Bang Khae Market and Wonder Market.
Using four Covid-19 mobile testing van donated by His Majesty the King, plus support from the Urban Institute for Disease Prevention and Control, City Hall can test up to 1,000 people per day, said the governor.
The six markets will be initially closed for three days from today until Thursday pending the test results; if the number of infections is high, the closure will be extended.
The surge has prompted the Department of Older Persons to order the stepping-up of Covid-19 measures at Ban Bang Khae, a home for the elderly. Visitors and special activities have been banned there until further notice.
As of Monday morning, the CCSA reported that the number of infections linked to the Bang Khae cluster stood at over 100.
CCSA assistant spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangson said that of 995 people tested in the Bang Khae area, 107 had tested positive for Covid-19. A total of 2,772 people in seven communities in the neighbourhood took saliva tests and were awaiting results.
She said the Bang Khae cluster was worrying the CCSA due to the high number of cases.
Based on initial inquiries, the first person infected was a 21-year-old egg vendor at Wonder Market who had symptoms on March 1 and tested positive on March 5.
Seven of his close associates also tested positive, prompting proactive screening in Wonder Market and surrounding communities and a market clean-up.
Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control (DDC), on Monday denied that health officials had been slow to contain the spread of the virus.
He said health authorities were sent to investigate and conduct proactive testing as soon as the first case in the new cluster was reported. The mass testing targeted vendors and workers at the six markets.
Prior to this outbreak, there were no reports of mass infections in Bang Khae district during the proactive Covid-19 screening campaign in western Bangkok last month, he said.
The proactive screening was conducted in six districts, including Bang Khae, after a large number of cases linked to factory workers and surrounding communities in Phasi Charoen district were confirmed.
Despite the new cluster emerging days before the CCSA makes a final decision on the Songkran celebrations on Friday, CCSA operations chief Gen Natthapol Nakpanich said it was unlikely to affect the planned easing of restrictions during the national holiday.
Indeed, the CCSA's operations centre earlier suggested that it wanted to ease restrictions to help the economy move ahead.
Citing health authorities, Gen Natthapol said the Bang Khae cluster was similar to the outbreak in mid-February at two fresh food markets in Pathum Thani, which had now been brought under control.
"The Bang Khae cluster is unlikely to force the government to cancel the festival. From a bigger picture, it will not affect the planned easing of restrictions," he said.
Gen Natthapol said the CCSA's panel on the easing of restrictions would meet tomorrow to propose the easing of Covid-19 restrictions ahead of the CCSA's decision on Friday.
"We've contained the spread in Pathum Thani and we're confident we are able to contain this one," he said.
Thailand on Monday reported new 78 new cases and one fatality.
Dr Apisamai said the new fatality was an 88-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions.
His family members had all been tested and given the all-clear.
She said the Covid-19 situation in Samut Sakhon was improving and a further easing of restrictions was likely to be announced soon.