Thailand plans to make another try of “living with Covid-19” while Omicron is still pushing the number of daily cases high
After the country briefly saw a sharp fall of Covid-19 cases in what supposed to be an end period of the fourth wave in late December, below 2,500 a day, the number of daily cases of Covid-19 has since been rising sharply and already surpassed the 10,000 mark once again due to the spread of Omicron. The highest number of daily cases in the country was recorded in late August at over 23,400 before it dropped below 10,000 in early October last year.
Since the first infected case and the first locally transmitted case of Omicron were confirmed in the country on December 6 and a week or so last year, the variant has spread fast, with Omicron-related cases rising from tens to hundreds within a month before reaching the first 10,000 a few weeks later after the New Year. This has prompted the country’s record on daily Covid-19 cases to rise again and surpassed 10,000 straightforwardly for four days already since Saturday; 10,490, 10,879, 10,470, and 10,398, as of today.
The cumulative cases since the first outbreak as of today stand at 2,517, 869, while the cumulative number of daily cases since January 1, 2022, alone, as officially reported by the government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) as the beginning of the fifth wave caused by Omicron, stands at 294, 434 already. As of mid-January, the Medical Sciences Department, which has been monitoring the virus in the country, confirmed that Omicron managed to take over infection nationwide from Delta, with the ratio over 80% per 20%.
Public health and disease control officials have all agreed that the variant is highly contagious, but played down public concerns, saying the situation is “in line with what earlier projected” and “still under control”.
Public Health Permanent Secretary Dr. Kiattiphom Wongrajit said yesterday that the situation is in line with what earlier projected and still under control, given the death rate that has fallen sharply, from 2% to 0.22%, and that he said “is relatively low”. However, to ensure that the situation is put under control, up to 80% of the population needs to be fully vaccinated, while the booster dose should cover up to 80-90% of the second shot.
Public Health Minister and Deputy PM Anutin Charnvirakul also said although the number of daily cases is rising, hospitalization and deaths have not increased since last December. The rates, he added, have demonstrated that these two public health conditions are rather declining, in contrast to those in several foreign countries.
“Thailand can control the situation better than several countries and part of this is because we comply with recommended measures,” said Mr. Anutin.
Mr. Anutin said the government is mulling over living with Covid-19 as normal as possible and any updates or reports related to the situation would be adjusted to calm down the public. Maximum and strict control and controlled zones or Dark Red and Red zones have been removed since January 24.
However, the government has still kept the situation alert at Level 4, which means strict disease control measures, or VUCA, (Vaccination, Universal Prevention, Covid-19 Free Setting, and Antigen Test Kits), closure or restrictions over risk venues, application of the Work from Home model, and recommendation on the delays of interprovincial trips. No lockdowns are implemented at this stage.
It has also been contemplating on whether or not the outbreak should be declared as “an endemic”. The Department of Disease Control earlier projected that the latest round of the Covid-19 outbreak should be on its downward trend later this year as most of the population will get full vaccination against the disease.
Nevertheless, clusters of the disease are still found nationwide, and Omicron infection occurs in families up to 40-50%, far higher than the Delta one, which is around 10-20%, according to Dr. Opas Karnkawinpong, the DDC’s Director-General.
As of February 1, the government has also resumed the Test&Go program with some revisions to step up measures including the re-introduction of double tests of RT-PCR on foreign visitors.
“Not steep rise”
WHO Thailand’s latest analyses on the country’s situation released last Thursday showed that the average number of new daily cases in the past 7 days only increased by 6.7% compared to the previous week.
The organization said although the average case numbers of the country are increasing week on week, the steep rise in cases seen in other countries due to the importation of Omicron has not been seen here. This is likely due to public health and social measures, plus strong adherence to personal protective measures by the public members as well as increasing vaccination rates.
The average number of 19 daily deaths was reported in the same past week. This was a 21% increase compared to the previous week, which stood at 15. And the average number of severe cases over the past seven days (542) represented a 0.7% decrease compared to the previous week, which was recorded at 546. That of the ventilated cases also represented a 9.5% decrease (105), compared to the previous week (116), the organization said.
“Although Thailand is not experiencing the big upsurge in confirm cases as being seen in other countries, the widespread use of rapid antigen tests (including those available ‘over the counter) makes it difficult to accurately monitor the situation.
“The decrease in the number of severe and ventilated cases in hospitals is very encouraging and may reflect the lower levels of illness believed to be associated with Omicron infection,” WHO Thailand remarked, given the current vaccination rates.
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