Govt seeks 'painless' transition
Ever since the Covid-19 outbreak began more than two years ago, people have had to learn to live with the disease. Finally, the national committee on communicable disease is preparing the country for what it hopes will be a painless transition to endemic status.
Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Health, said that people have learnt to protect themselves from infection through measures including frequent hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing. A high vaccination rate also helps and should also give the government confidence to move forward. At present, a significant majority of the population, 81.2%, has had their first dose while 74.7% have had a second shot and 38.9% a third.
"We have lived with the disease for a while now and been forced to become accustomed to it. The medical profession now has few problems when treating the disease and over 99% of the Thai population has a right to free medical treatment under the government's health insurance schemes. There is nothing to be worried about," he said.
The Ministry of Public Health last week lowered its Covid-19 alert level from Level 4 to Level 3, allowing most people to resume their daily activities with fewer restrictions. It is a result of declining daily infections in line with a ministry forecast that the rate would fall to a level that would no longer put pressure on the country's public health security, he said.
According to the ministry's plan to treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease, over 60% of the population must have had a booster shot by the end of June, disease reports would become weekly rather than daily and hospital admissions reduced to severe cases only. Hospitals will also be expected to set up a long-Covid unit to treat people suffering from related conditions.
In terms of legal enforcement, it will move Covid-19 onto the list of viruses that need monitoring under the communicable disease law.
This would mean that all travel restrictions would be lifted and pubs, bars and restaurants being allowed to open again," he said. Meanwhile, a Covid-free setting must be based on a voluntary code of practice.
The Department of Disease Control (DDC) conducted an online survey from April 21-22 among 364 participants about the measures that people wanted the government to remove the most. It found 12.9% of respondents wanted the removal of temperature checks prior to entering many venues, followed by 11.7% calling for an end to all domestic travel restrictions. Some 10.5% did not want compulsory mask-wearing and 9.9% called for unhindered travel abroad.
The DDC also conducted a survey on April 26 among 15 white-collar participants aged between 35-45 in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Nakhon Ratchasima. The result showed that people would accept risks if the country were to fully reopen. A significant majority wanted to live their lives as normal so that the economic situation would improve. They also understood that they would have to live with Covid-19 and wanted to be sure that the government had sufficient resources to treat those who become infected. Some said the government has waited too long to reopen fully.