Foreign visitors arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport, where disease control measures for visitors are imposed. Credit: Pubic Health Ministry

Thailand closes its door against non-quarantine visitors as first local transmission of Omicron detected

The first local transmission case of Omicron has been confirmed whereas the number of Omicron infections has risen to 63, prompting the government to reintroduce stricter restrictions against incoming visitors

The Disease Control Department (DDC) has confirmed the first local transmission case of Omicron infection among citizens as a 49-year-old Thai woman was tested positive to Omicron following close contact with her husband, who is a Columbian pilot having been infected with Omicron and confirmed on December 10. Her infection was confirmed between December 12-19, according to the DDC.

Thailand had first detected Omicron early this month in a male patient of the U.S.national, who had travelled from Spain through Dubai and arrived in Bangkok on November 30, when he was tested with RT-PCR upon his arrival under the Test&Go program. The Test&GO program is a newly introduced entry program for incoming visitors, which is aimed at facilitating them by requiring no RT-PCR testing nor quarantine upon arrival, except a rapid test using an Antigen Test Kit.

Upon learning about the case, the government re-adjusted the measures quickly by switching back to RT-PCR, seen among virologists as the most effective screening method against the virus.

The disease control officials have identified one high-risk contact who is a taxi driver and 89 more people who are at low risk of infection and have their 14-day quarantine completed without reports of infection. The taxi driver’s round will be completed tomorrow before the case is confirmed whether he will be cleared of the variant or not, according to the officials.

Dr. Supakit Sirilak, the Medical Sciences Department’s Director-General, said at the press conference yesterday that the country’s infection trend of Omicron infection is in line with the global trend, under which the infection spreads rapidly.

According to Dr. Supakit, Omicron infection has been reported in 89 countries already with three sub-variants of BA1, BA2, and BA 3 identified. Compared to the variant of Wuhan and Delta, Omicron spreads faster, with the rate recorded at 8.54 (Wuhan 2.5, and Delta 6.5).

“It spreads faster than Delta,” said Dr. Supakit. “The World Health Organization has noted that it could possibly affect the vaccine effectiveness, but if we look at the cases in Africa, severe cases and hospitalization have not yet significantly increased although infection cases have.”

The department is now testing the effectiveness of the vaccine formulas used among the citizens to see how well they could be against the variant. The results could be expected during the New Year period, he said.

“Some previous cases under which the variant was fortunately detected fast among visitors should serve a lesson for us to review our existing measures,” said Dr. Supakit.

Disease control officials are deployed at Suvarnabhumi Airport to help screen visitors. Credit: Public Health Ministry

Trips to Thailand tightened

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as a chair of the Center for Covid Situation Administration, revealed after the CCSA meeting yesterday that the meeting agreed to tighten rules on trips to Thailand as a result of the spread of Omicron.

The premier said he was confirmed about the threat prompted by Omicron from the Public Health Ministry so the meeting decided as such. So far, around 200,000 visitors have registered for the country’s entry. Over 100,000 of them have travelled to the country, leaving around 90,000 for the officials to further manage following the existing programs until January 10, 2022.

As explained in detail by the Foreign Ministry, the umbrella entry system of Thailand Pass will be closed for all new Test and Go and Sandbox applications, except for Phuket Sandbox, starting from today onward until further notice.

Applicants who have received their Thailand Pass QR Code can enter Thailand under the program they have registered for. Those who have not received their QR Code must wait for their Thailand Pass to be considered or approved.

New applicants, however, will not be able to register for the Test and Go and Sandbox programs, except for the Phuket Sandbox. The options left for incoming visitors will be an entry with Alternative Quarantine (AQ) or under the Phuket Sandbox only.

Passengers who can still arrive in Thailand under the Test and Go and Sandbox programs are required to undertake their second Covid-19 RT-PCR test and have a follow-up if they show symptoms. The latest measures will be reviewed again on January 4, according to the CCSA.

Public Health Minister and Deputy PM Anutin Charnvirakul conceded on Monday that the variant is of concern because countries still allow visitors to enter. Thailand also needs to tighten its rules on travel like several countries in Europe, the Middle East, the U.S. and Africa.

The least requirements would still be quarantine and monitoring to ensure visitors are free of the variant, he said.

So far, Thailand has managed to vaccinate over 100 million doses of Covid-19 to its citizens, 44 million of which are the second doses, accounting for 61%. The government has set its goal to vaccinate 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of this year, with 2-dose or full vaccination covering 70% of the citizen or 50 million.