The first local cases of Covid-19 with the UK variant of the virus have been reported in the Thong Lor cluster, a noted virologist said on Wednesday, and warned it could spread faster than the kind previously found in Thailand.
Prof Yong Poovorawan, of the faculty of medicine at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, posted the warning in a Facebook message.
He said the UK variant had been found in 24 cases in the Thong Lor cluster.
The director of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology also warned of the rapid pace at which the UK Covid variant could spread.
"The strain found in the Thong Lor cluster is the UK variant. It will spread 1.7 times quicker than the normal strain," he said.
It was the first time local infections involving the UK variant had been found in Thailand, he said.
It is also known as the Kent variant.
Dr Yong said that in January the coronavirus variant was detected in a British family of four members who arrived in the country from Kent. He did not give further details.
The World Health Organization said in January the UK virus variant, which is technically known as the B.1.1.7 lineage, had spread to more than 60 countries. In Asia, Japan was one of the countries detected with the varian.
The Thong Lor cluster and pubs in Pathum Thani had spread the disease to 291 people in 15 provinces, 200 of them in Bangkok, since March 22, according to the Disease Control Department.
Department director-general Opas Karnkawinpong said on Monday the Public Health Ministry had found the connection between Thong Lor and Pathum Thani. Pubgoers and musicians visited both locations.
Dr Yong said later at a media briefing at the department that the quick spread of the virus from the Thong Lor cluster had surprised health authorities, even though they knew that bars, pubs and nightclubs were confined environments that made them liable to spreading the virus.
They found out why after swab tests in 24 cases from Thong Lor bars.
"We found a relatively high concentration of the virus in their throats," Dr Yong said. "I was shocked on learning that 24 cases in Thong Lor were of the UK variant.
"I have no idea how it slipped into Thailand, and through our quarantine programme," he said.
As the UK variant could spread quicker, Dr Yong urged people to limit their movements during the Songkran holiday. He said people should not hesitate about being vaccinated. The vaccine could fight the UK variant he said.
"But please, limit unnecessary travel," he said.