The government is monitoring two new Omicron subvariants in Europe as Thailand prepares for an influx of international arrivals from next month when entry rules are eased further.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said on Wednesday Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha instructed the Public Health Ministry to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Europe after cases of the two subvariants -- BA.4 and BA.5 -- were detected in countries such as Portugal, the UK, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany.
State agencies have also been instructed to plan ahead to deal with the expected surge in foreign arrivals after the Thailand Pass registration requirement is revoked on July 1, the spokesman said.
Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences (DMSC), said people should not jump to conclusions about the new subvariants, to avoid causing public panic.
The subvariants were already on the radar of the DMSC which is studying them to learn more about their characteristics, he said.
"Initially, we have found they can evade immunity better than previous strains. Most new mutations are often able to escape immunity," he said.
Dr Supakist said health authorities have collected samples of the subvariants, though it may take up to five weeks to determine how they differ from previous strains.
If anyone is suspected of having either of the new subvariants and is admitted to hospital, samples will be taken and sent to the DMSC for examination as part of the probe, Dr Supakit said.
The permanent secretary for the Public Health Ministry, Kiattiphum Wongrajit, said the number of new cases of Covid-19 and seriously ill patients has stabilised and started to decline.
Most new cases are in Bangkok, nearby provinces and major provinces, Dr Kiattiphum said, adding most deaths were still among members of the so-called "608 group" who did not receive booster shots.
The group comprises people aged 60 years and older, those with underlying diseases and pregnant women.
He stressed the need for people to receive booster shots to prevent the worst effects of the virus.
Dr Kiattiphum said 139.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered.
Of those, 81.8% were first shots, 76.2% second doses, and 42.3% third or booster shots -- still below the target of 60%, he said.
According to the Centre for Medical Genomics at Ramathibodi Hospital, Thailand has recorded 49 new cases of the two new Omicron subvariants, which are considered more contagious.
Wasun Chantratita, who heads the centre, previously said 26 cases of BA.5, 23 cases of BA.4 and 18 cases of BA.2.12.1 had been detected in the kingdom since April.
He cited data from Gisaid, the global data science initiative, to back up his remarks.
Dr Wasun said the figure was based on random tests so the true number of infections could be considerably higher.
The patients were admitted to hospital and their condition was described as manageable.
"Omicron is not the last variant of Covid-19," he said. Dr Wasun added most of the patients infected with the subvariants had come from overseas.