Reopening spike 'no surprise'
Health chiefs expect peak in September
The number of new Covid-19 infections has picked up and is expected to continue rising in the next 10 weeks particularly in Bangkok and other provinces which are expecting an influx of tourists, health authorities warned on Monday.
A rise has already been observed this week and is projected to continue, even though the new peak is unlikely to be anywhere near the previous high when the Omicron variant dominated coronavirus cases in Thailand, said Dr Chakrarat Pittayawonganon, director of the Bureau of Epidemiology.
"Higher vaccination rates are slowing the rise in new infections which is predicted to peak in September when about 4,000 new cases are expected per day," he said.
The latest relaxation of most Covid-19 restrictions, starting last Friday, has been seen as the key factor in the growing number of new cases, he said.
And, as is being observed elsewhere, the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants are expected to soon become dominant in Thailand as well, he said.
However, while vaccinations followed up with booster shots of existing Covid-19 vaccines may not be effective in preventing the spread of these new sub-variants, it is hoped that the severity of symptoms will still be diminished, he said.
A low percentage of Covid-19 deaths has been reported in the UK and the US where 73% and 67% respectively of the population is well vaccinated with booster shots, while a higher percentage of deaths is being observed in South Africa where only 32% of the population is vaccinated.
Nevertheless, France still has a high rate of Covid-19 deaths despite its high vaccination coverage of up to 78% of the population, Dr Chakrarat warned.
"In Thailand, the cumulative number of Covid-19 patients suffering lung infections rose from 630 to 677 this week, which corresponded with the increase in cases.
"Most of the new clusters were reported in Bangkok, the surrounding provinces, provinces that are the country's main tourist destinations or in the southern border areas," he said.
Covid-19 universal prevention measures, including face-mask wearing and social distancing, are still highly recommended among at-risk groups, he said.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul insisted the country's healthcare system is ready to cope with this expected increase in the weeks to come and urged people to get the proper booster shot.
"Thailand is capable of taking care of new Covid-19 patients and will do whatever it takes to continue to steer the economy without harming risking public health," he said.
It was found that 78.3% of new cases diagnosed in random tests on foreigners were of the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants, while only about 50.3% of the new cases among Thais were found to be caused by the new strains, according to Dr Supakit Sirilak, director-general of Department of Medical Sciences.
The two sub-variants are therefore expected to dominate new cases in the country soon, he said.
It remains unclear whether BA.4 and BA.5 are causing a higher death rate or more severe symptoms, he said.
"As for the latest sub-variant of Omicron, BA.2.75, that is believed to be even more transmissible than BA.4 and BA.5, the department has so far detected no cases in Thailand," he said.
Already diagnosed in 10 states in India, the BA.2.75 sub-variant has yet to be classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a variant of concern or requiring special monitoring, he said.
In another development, Bunyawat Witthayalai School in Lampang returned to online learning for three days following an outbreak at the school.
Dr Prasert Kitsuwannarat, chief health officer of the northern province, said on Monday health workers there had logged 438 new infections in one day.