Govt mulls easing virus curbs

Govt mulls easing virus curbs

Anutin says Omicron variant 'less severe'

Tourists relax on a beach on Koh Tao in Surat Thani. (Photo: Supapong Chaolan)
Tourists relax on a beach on Koh Tao in Surat Thani. (Photo: Supapong Chaolan)

The Public Health Ministry will propose easing Covid-19 curbs in light of the diminishing threat posed by the virus's Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said that even though new daily cases linked with Omicron have increased since New Year, the number of people with severe symptoms on ventilators or in intensive care units is still low.

Also, the daily fatalities have not exceeded 20 for a while, he said.

"This is a reason to be confident, for even though Omicron is highly transmissible it is still less severe than the Delta variant," Mr Anutin said.

"In light of the positive trend, the Public Health Ministry will ask the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to ease as many containment measures as possible quickly. But if there are still threats to public health, the ministry will also propose measures for the public's safety," Mr Anutin said.

He also said that vaccinations are crucial to protecting the public against the worst effects of the virus, and those who are not vaccinated have been urged to get their shots quickly.

Mr Anutin added that children aged 5-12 can now get Pfizer vaccines following the manufacturer's confirmation. Next month, there will be enough Pfizer vaccines registered for children in this age bracket, he said.

He further said that the ministry has instructed the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation to ensure sufficient supplies of favipiravir pills for treatment of infected patients.

"We cannot afford to be complacent or let our guard down. We have to prepare just in case," the minister said.

Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, said that containment measures have proved to be effective with rates of fatalities and severe cases declining, with this aided by cooperation from the public.

"Currently the situation has stabilised, but we still need to maintain strict precautions," Dr Kiattiphum said.

"Over the last 14 days, new cases increased quickly in the first week. But caseloads have currently stabilised and are in a declining trend. Severe case numbers continue to go down.

"The ministry recently raised the alert to Level 4," Dr Kiattiphum continued, "urging people to follow universal prevention measures, avoid at-risk premises and delay [interprovincial travel]. But we will consider lowering the alert level in light of the situation starting to ease."

He said the ministry is also considering reducing the 14-day quarantine period for at-risk groups to seven days to enable people to resume their normal lives quickly.

He noted that treatment of infected patients lasts about 10 days while the quarantine period lasts longer.

However, the ministry is waiting for experts to come up with clear measures before deciding to reduce the quarantine period, he said.

But in principle, at-risk people who came into contact with infected people would be quarantined for seven days and undergo two antigen tests on day 5 and 6. If the results come back negative, they would be allowed to get back to work, but would still have to undergo another test on day 9 or 10, Dr Kiattiphum said.

Dr Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Department of Medical Services, said that there were 46,873 hospital beds available for Covid-19 patients nationwide as of Thursday.

Since most patients infected with Omicron have mild or no symptoms, they will be looked after mainly at home and in community isolation facilities.

Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, on Friday insisted that the Public Health Ministry was not trying to contradict a warning on Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) against treating Covid-19 as an endemic illness like flu, rather than as a pandemic.

Dr Opas said the ministry had only explained to the public how the Covid-19 pandemic could be downgraded to endemic status and given necessary steps to achieve the aim.

"We expect that if everybody cooperates, it should become endemic within this year, not today or tomorrow," Dr Opas said.

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