Bangkok braces for sixth wave with big spike in infections feared

Bangkok braces for sixth wave with big spike in infections feared

'Tens of thousands' of new daily cases likely by August peak

Many people show up at the Bang Sue Grand Station for Covid-19 vaccination in Bangkok on Sunday. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Many people show up at the Bang Sue Grand Station for Covid-19 vaccination in Bangkok on Sunday. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Bangkok is bracing for a sixth wave of Covid-19, as Covid cases in the capital bounce back to over 10,000 new cases per day, threatening the city's public health system.

As Thailand gradually recovers from lockdown measures, the spread of the newly emerged BA.5 Omicron subvariant has yet again put Bangkok back on high alert for another Covid-19 outbreak.

While the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) says it is ready to cope with another wave of the Covid-19 epidemic, Bangkok could be faced with tens of thousands Covid patients by the time this outbreak peaks in late August.

BA.5 subvariant sparks fears

Since the number of new Covid infections has been steadily rising during recent weeks, especially in Bangkok where half the nationwide Covid cases are reported, Dr Yong Poovorawan, head of the Center of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, said this is the sign of another approaching wave of Covid-19 outbreak.

Dr Yong said the change of the prevalent Covid strain from the BA.2 Omicron subvariant to the BA.5 subvariant is behind the recent surge.

"As the BA.5 subvariant has the ability to elude protection from the virus, produced after vaccinations and infections, it is by far the most infectious Covid strain, because it can infect those who are already vaccinated or previously recovered from a Covid infection," he said.

"Thailand will face a sixth wave of outbreak, in which we will see a higher infection rate than previous waves."

The BA.5 subvariant was first identified early this January in South Africa. Since then, it has spread quickly and become the main Covid variant in many countries throughout the world and has been noticed in Thailand since April.

It now makes up about 26.1% of the tested samples, according to the genomic examination of Covid cases in Thailand during the past month by the Center for Medical Genomics of Mahidol University. Most BA.5 subvariant samples were from the Bangkok Metropolitan area.

As Covid infections continue to rise, Dr Yong estimated tens of thousands of new infections are likely per day by the end of August.

"Since this round of Covid-19 epidemic has occurred right after the resumption of on-site teaching at public schools nationwide for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, the virus will spread easily among students in schools. It can then further spread to their family members and infect large numbers of people," he said.

Meanwhile, BMA figures on Covid infections in Bangkok during the past week show there are about 2,000–3,000 new Covid cases via RT-PCR test a day, while around 5,000–6,000 more cases were identified by ATK test.

Even though the Ministry of Public Health only records around 2,000 cases of new Covid-19 infections per day, because the BA.5 Omicron subvariant generally causes mild sickness among healthy people, a large number of infected people who have few symptoms are not reported.

"However, this strain can still cause severe symptoms among vulnerable groups, so we need to make sure they receive a booster vaccine and can access medication once infected," he added.

City faces up to challenge

In the wake of the BA.5 Omicron subvariant outbreak in the capital, Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt said he had ordered four initial measures to cope with the surge of Covid-19 infections.

They comprise adding an extra working day for all 69 Public Health Centers under the BMA on Saturdays, opening walk-in vaccination booths at the centres every Friday and Saturday, proactive Covid-19 screening at schools, and a proactive vaccination campaign targeting vulnerable groups.

"Even though the BMA is focussed on primary care and health promotion, in terms of advanced medical care, the BMA has 11 hospitals under its wing, comprising 11% of overall hospital bed capacity in Bangkok," Mr Chadchart said.

"BMA is not the sole administrator of Bangkok's public health system. So we have to work closely with other stakeholders such as the Public Health Ministry, medical schools, and military and police, all of whom have hospitals of their own as part of the city's public health system."

He also urged the people to keep up their guard and strictly follow Covid-19 prevention measures, including wearing facemasks in public areas.

Dr Wantanee Wattana, deputy city clerk of the BMA, said the BMA is working with the ministry and Government Pharmaceutical Organization to prepare medical stockpiles for Covid patients and provide a support system for the patients with mild symptoms in home isolation.

Even though Bangkok still has spare hospital beds available for Covid in-patients, the number of new Covid patients requiring hospital treatment in Bangkok has grown to approximately 1,000 a day.

The BMA has designated the Erawan Emergency Medical Service Center to be a focal point for patient transfers between hospitals and ensure proper hospital bed management.

Meanwhile, Natjiraporn Dang-iad, vice-president of Sirindhorn Hospital, a hospital under the BMA's administration in Prawet district, said Covid patients seeking medical care have increased, though most have very mild symptoms and only 5% need to be admitted.

Ms Natjiraporn said the hospital still has the capacity to receive more Covid patients, though many hospital staff are infected with Covid-19 as well, which puts a squeeze on personnel.

"We had insufficient staff to begin with, so when many of our staff get sick, we don't have enough staff to take of patients. This is why we would like to ask people to take Covid-19 prevention measures seriously to prevent transmission to others," she said.

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