More Covid-19 samples from patients in the southern provinces of Songkhla and Phatthalung are being collected to check for the highly contagious South African variant which has only been detected in Narathiwat so far, the Medical Science Department director-general said on Tuesday.
Supphakit Siriluck said the South African variant was first found on Saturday among illegal immigrants in Tak Bai district, Narathiwat.
Initially, three cases were detected but later eight were confirmed after more samples were collected.
"This variant was only found in Tak Bai. The department has asked for more samples [from Covid-19 patients] in Hat Yai district of Songkhla and Phatthalung to check for the variant," Dr Supphakit said, suggesting that people should avoid travel to prevent contact.
"This variant is much more powerful than the British and Indian variants because it has a stronger effect on the body and prior immunity from Covid-19 will not protect us against this variant. I am very worried that the vaccine might not be able to help," he said.
Last week, 36 cases with the Indian variant were detected at a Laksi construction camp and currently, 62 cases have been detected via nasal swab tests.
Dr Supphakit said that there are five variants the world is most concerned about -- the British, South African, Brazilian, Indian and Californian -- and information on these variants is limited in Thailand so it is necessary to carefully monitor the situation and prevent its entry from other countries.
"Its first point of entry is likely to be in state quarantine so we are trying to investigate this group," he said.
To detect the virus, the standard method is RT–PCR, collected via a nasal swab that takes up to four hours to return results.
To identify the variant, there are three ways to do so: using a specific solution; targeted sequencing which takes one to two days; or whole virus genome inspection which takes three to five days.
"Our department is cooperating with hospitals such as Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital and Ramathibodi Hospital to track the origins of the virus and its footprint using worldwide information," he said.