Construction workers in the city have to suspend their work for 30 days at least and go through active case finding testing following the closure order against the spread of the disease, which is most rampant in their camps. Credit: BMA

EDITORIAL: The public deserves a big apology for repeated Covid-19 control mistakes

In spite of sharp warnings and advice, the government has taken too lax or delayed action against the spread of Covid-19 in the third and coming fourth rounds of the outbreak, which now could take a toll on the citizens. They genuinely deserve a big apology from it

One who can read unfortunate signs and react attentively can avoid disasters. Unfortunately, that’s not the case of Thailand after the first round of Covid-19 outbreak, out of which it earned much praise from the international community for effective handling of the spread of the virus.

In the first round of the outbreak early last year, which started from a few clusters and “a super spreader” from an entertainment venue and a boxing stadium in the middle of the city of Bangkok, the government actively responded to the infection, listening carefully to medical experts’ advice and quickly suppressing the virus. Hard measures including the extreme curfews were imposed against it for fears that it would spread out of the clusters to other areas nationwide.

Under the hard measures, the disease was effectively put under control, but the economy was severely affected. So, as the country was hit by the second outbreak in mid-December, starting from a seafood market cluster in Samut Sakhon province, the government reviewed its past measures against the virus more carefully for fears that it would affect the economy.

As a result, no more extreme measures were implemented against the virus. Still, it had managed to control the spread of the virus to the upcountry although the cluster was a seafood market, which was a large gathering of mixed visitors. Over those two rounds of the Covid-19 outbreak, the country recorded no more than 30,000 (28,863) cumulative cases and the number of deaths below 100 (94).

But the third wave is far different. First and foremost, the virus is not the same variant anymore, but it is the UK’s Alpha, which is well-known for its fast-spreading nature.

Senior medical experts like the country’s noted virologist, Prof. Dr. Yong Poovorawan, Head of the Center of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, did not hesitate to issue a sharp warning upon learning about the virus, which had spread out of some few entertainment venues, again, in the middle of the city. The noted virologist warned that the variant, plus the already lax government measures, could expedite the virus spread up to 170 times when compared with the infection rate in the first round.

Despite such a sharp warning, the government had decided to allow people especially the city residents to return home for a long holiday of Songkran in a hope that they could help boost the country’s ailing economy over the holiday period.

What is feared among disease control experts, however, is the fact that the disease spreads out of clusters and into communities, developing into community infection where contact tracing will become impossible.

The decision to allow people to travel out of the city did spur such the spread as all 77 provinces were reported of having been infected with the virus for the first time during the third wave of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The situation then had gone from bad to worse as people had returned from their home to the city after the holiday ended. Those infected with the virus further spread it to their contacts in the city, and since clusters in the city have expanded to various venues and locations, ranging from communities, workplaces, factories, markets, malls, and construction camps.

As of today, the number of cumulative infection cases from April 1, the beginning of the third wave of the Covid-19 outbreak, has stood at 230, 438, or almost eight times higher than the number recorded in the first two rounds combined, and the number of deaths is at 1,929, or over 20 times higher!

What is being feared among senior medical experts is an exceptionally inclining infection rate over the past week or so, which involves an extensive contribution from local transmission cases. This, they said, suggests widespread community infection going on especially in the city.

The government at first, again, did not pay heed to such a concern, further relaxing restrictions starting from June 21 onwards. It was not until upon learning about the emerging widespread of the Delta variant in the city in the last minutes that it decided to take a serious U-turn against its rule relaxation last Friday. The variant first originated in India is known to spread even faster than the UK’s, said to be up to 30 to 40 times.

Worse, the city is now bracing for the more virulent variant from South Africa, Beta, which has travelled up from the South, where is believed to have been infected with the variant from cross-border visitors.

A mistake has been made once during the Songkran holiday and has resulted in the country stepping across the disease control threshold and into a more disastrous zone of widespread community transmission. The public members now are just keeping a finger crossed that its latest decision to step back from the rule relaxation and quickly tighten the restrictions against the imminent widespread of the Delta could be in time.

One who can read unfortunate signs and react attentively can avoid disasters, but these actions must also be quick, if not timely.

A mistake can occur once but it cannot afford a repetition. Any mistakes after this, there is no one to blame and be responsible for, but the government, which is proved to have failed to read unfortunate signs and pay heed to imminent disasters, which now could take a toll on every citizen.

Up to this point, it owes pretty much a big apology to the public members, who deserve it in every way from their government.