EDITORIAL: Understanding in “social distancing” is Thailand’s last chance against large-scale Coronavirus infection

If there is anything beyond the rise of confirmed cases in upcountry, it’s the test of the latest stringent measures introduced by the government and a series that follow during the whole week.

236 is the latest number of confirmed Coronavirus infection cases from upcountry that has been reported to the Public Health Ministry today.

Although this is still behind the number reported from areas in Bangkok, its rise within the past few days which is almost double, as cited by the ministry, is far enough to prompt serious concerns among the public health officials responsible for the situation.

“The number recorded in the past few days doesn’t look lovely anymore as it is sharply rising as days go by,” the ministry’s spokesperson Dr. Thaweesilp Wisanuyothin said, adding Thailand’s infection trend is following that in the seriously infected countries when looking at the plotted graph. Today’s number stands at 599, from yesterday’s 411.

If there is anything beyond the rise that the number has shown, it’s the test of the latest stringent measures introduced by the government and a series that follow during the whole week.

On Monday, the national Coronavirus infection control center chaired by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha called for a meeting where it came up with a package of measures to implement in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, under which new cases emerging more and more out of cluster groups in the city and spreading to upcountry as a result.

The Cabinet on Tuesday endorsed the package, which cover measures in six areas of work; be they public health safeguards, medical supplies provision, communications, foreign business, prevention and control, and rehabilitation.

Among the measures are travel restrictions and close-down measures under the work area 1 and 5, which have become the most controversial ones as they are involved restricted travels both inbound and outbound trips and temporary close-downs against crowded venues, mainly educational institutions and entertainment and sporting venues.

The PM, however, insisted on that day that the government had not yet introduced a “lockdown” measure against the virus in the city.

“We are in the middle of stopping the virus to spread both from inbound sources as well as locals’. We need to prolong the Phase 2 of the outbreak as much as we can . So, our measures could be scaled up as such but these are for now,” the PM had said.

But only just a few days after his announcement, the number of confirmed cases from upcountry soared, prompting governors of Bangkok and periphery areas yesterday issued additional orders to further stem the spread of the virus from the cities to upcountry. 

The orders have closed down more crowded venues including markets and restaurants and department stores with some exception for supermarket and fresh produce zones, take-away food corners and drugstores, the signal that suggests the so-called lockdown measure be kickstarted.

Hours after the orders, the national communicable disease control committee late last night had to issue another order asking governors nationwide as well as agencies concerned to help stem flows of crowds from the cities or confine them at home for fears that they would become the critical hosts of the virus in upcountry once they have reached their hometowns.

By this point, no one is certain now whether all the measures introduced would be effective enough to stem the spread of the virus as they are apparently one step behind it.

For several observers as well as renowned medical professionals like Dr Thiravat Hemachudha, who was among the first “whistle blowers” that strongly suggested the government take a decisive action by locking down the cities before it was too late, he seemed to have the answer in mind as he simply said in his Fabebook when looking at the rising number of cases as “no comment”. 

The doctor who heads the Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Center of King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital has projected that if the lockdown measure was implemented too late or too loose, it would become meaningless as the infection would become widespread by then.

The only chance for the government now is how to make people understand the situation and cooperate with it in containing the virus via disciplined “social distancing” in this last bet.

Whether it would be called “lockdown” or not doesn’t matter any more.