Airport screening to be boosted

Rapid coronavirus outbreak in Italy rattles health ministry

The Ministry of Public Health is closely following the rapid outbreak of Covid-19 in Italy where 14 people were found to be infected in one day.

The ministry said screening measures to all passengers coming from Italy is likely to apply if the situation escalates.

Disease Control Department deputy chief Thanarak Plipat said the ministry was aware of a report of the deadly virus rapidly spreading in Italy. Based on the situation, it might be possible to expand screening measures to all passengers coming from Italy if the situation develops.

The ministry has already introduced screening passengers from affected countries with Covid-19 for the first time to passengers from Wuhan city -- the epicentre of the outbreak in China.

People from Hong Kong, Macao, Taipei, Japan, Singapore and South Korea will also be screened.

All passengers must have thermal body scans and fever conditions checked. If fever or suspected symptoms are found, the suspect will be transferred to a hospital.

"We are afraid that the number of infected patients found is very much lower than the actual situation," Dr Thanarak said.

"The challenging point is that public health officers should be able to trace all infectious patients and take them to the hospital system. If not, the virus will spread more in the region."

Italian officials said on Friday an additional 14 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19, up from six who were previously diagnosed in the northern part of the country.

They suggested self-quarantine for 14 days at home for people living in Codogno and Castiglione d'Adda -- the two Lombardy towns where the patients are from.

Dr Thanarak insisted the risk of contracting the disease in Thailand is still low, but intensive screening measures must be imposed to prevent the outbreak, adding the government has no policy for banning any travel to the affected countries or forcing people into quarantine after visiting those areas.

According to the ministry, Thailand has 35 confirmed cases. Twenty have been discharged from hospital, including a male tour guide who was discharged from Chon Buri Hospital yesterday.

He was among 138 Thais airlifted from Wuhan on Feb 4. Meanwhile, the number of patients under investigation is 1,252; 246 of those cases are still in hospital.

The ministry also ordered the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) to stock up on Favipiravir, an antiviral medication which the Chinese government said is a core tool to kill the virus.

Regarding political gatherings, he said now is not the right time to organise such events, adding there are other means to express political views that don't involve large public crowds.

"Organisers must take responsibility for people's health. If they don't want to increase the risk, they should not organise rallies," he said, adding that such activities would pose unnecessary risks.