Thailand faces its darkest hour against Covid-19 virus as vaccinations now due to begin in March
Prime Minister appeals to the public to lie low for 14 or 15 days as his government tries to avoid plunging the economy into meltdown with a full national lockdown while speeding up plans to vaccinate the population with the first vaccine jabs now expected sometime in March using China’s Sinovac product. The country recorded a record 745 cases on Monday but this was revealed to be underreported with extra cases in Samut Sakhon bringing the total to 1,215 cases. By May, Thailand should also be producing the UK Swedish firm AstraZeneca’s vaccine here.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha appealed to Thais to stay at home for now as the government seeks to break the spread of the current outbreak while avoiding a disastrous national lockdown. In the meantime, vaccinations against the virus are due to begin sometime in March with the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. General Prayut revealed on Tuesday that a further 35 million doses have been secured with a Thai company already geared up to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine in Pathum Thani.
Thailand’s Prime Minister has made a plea to the Thai public to stay at home, at this time, when the virus is spreading fast within the kingdom particularly in the provinces surrounding Bangkok after a large outbreak occurred in the province of Samut Sakhon, to the Southwest of the capital, in mid-December.
On Monday, the country reported 745 cases of the disease with one new death, a 56-year old man who died only a few days after testing positive for the disease. He was initially admitted to hospital on December 28th and had underlying health conditions.
Latest victim visited Klong Toey area of Bangkok
The spokesman for the Centre for Covid 19 Situation Administration, Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, said that the man had been in Samut Prakan province, a red zone for the disease as well as the Klong Toei area of central Bangkok.
The spread of the disease has now extended to 54 provinces after a case was reported in the seaside city of Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, by public health officials there.
‘We don’t want to lock down the entire country because we know what the problems are, so can you all lockdown yourselves?’ Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha said on Tuesday. ‘This is up to everyone, if you don’t want to get infected just stay home for 14 to 15 days. If you think like this then things will be safe, easier for screening.’
Government pushing back against lockdown plans
The Prime Minister and senior officials at Government House are trying to avoid, if possible, a full shutdown of the country. The PM began the week by countermanding orders from the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority that would have closed all sit down restaurants in Bangkok allowing them to operate during daytime hours.
On Monday, Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha appeared to announce a lockdown of five provinces on social media to limit the virus. These were Samut Sakhon, Chon Buri, Chanthaburi, Rayong and Trat.
However, this was rejected on Tuesday by the Prime Minister who spoke to the press before a crucial cabinet meeting at the seat of government in Bangkok.
The Deputy Prime Minister and the government’s key legal adviser Wissanu Krea-ngam also came out against the proposed 5 province lockdown which included plans for checkpoints and restricted travel.
DPM Wissanu said that there were already enough measures in place to counteract the risk posed by the disease in these areas and that movement of local people would not be restricted.
Monday’s numbers were actually over 1,200
The record number of cases announced on Monday of 745 infections, in fact, should have been even higher after the public health office in Samut Sakhon province revealed that 470 cases of infection there had not been included in the daily tally. This would have brought the figure into treble digits or 1,215 cases unlike anything seen in Thailand before.
The government is making a determined effort on this occasion to avert a second national lockdown like that seen in April 2020.
At the same time, it is also trying to find financial support for businesses already impacted by the latest restrictions which have seen pubs and entertainment centres closed with restaurant opening hours and seating hostelries restricted in Bangkok and provinces adjacent to the capital.
Government fighting on three fronts
Senior economists in the kingdom have warned that another lockdown, such as that seen last year, would be catastrophic for the kingdom’s prospects and represent a meltdown of the government’s current plans to rescue the economy by the end of the year.
Thai ministers find themselves fighting a battle on three fronts to protect the population and halt the spread of the virus, to keep the economy ticking over with added supports to businesses already suffering from this current crisis and to speed up the country’s mass vaccination plans which is, right now, the exit strategy that not only Thailand but the world is clinging to.
Chinese Sinovac vaccine heads up the government’s inoculation programme starting in March
Over the weekend, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul announced that vaccinations in Thailand would now begin sooner rather than later when he announced two million vaccines had been secured which were only subject to Food and Drug Administration regulation and cabinet approval of a price tag of ฿1.17 billion.
On Monday, it was revealed that these vaccines were of Chinese origin.
Over half the Thai population will be vaccinated
The Sinovac vaccine will become the first to be administered in Thailand despite the kingdom’s contract with UK Swedish firm AstraZeneca to deliver 26 million doses of its vaccine, expected to arrive in May this year.
In addition, the kingdom is reported to have begun manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine through a Thai firm, Siam BioScience, at a plant in Pathum Thani. Vaccines from this source are expected to also be coming on stream in May with a plant capacity of 15 million doses per month.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister also revealed that a further 35 million doses have been secured but did not elaborate on the source.
This would bring the total contracted for by Thailand to 63 million doses.
‘I have also ordered another 35 million doses and most of the population are expected to be vaccinated,’ Prime Minister Prayut said.
Vaccination progress to be rolled out in March with frontline health staff and village health officials among the first to be offered the immunity jab
The Chinese vaccine which was created by using inactive coronaviruses, in a tried and trusted technique, is designed to trigger the body’s immune system. It is expected to be rolled out in Thailand sometime in March. 200,000 initial doses are due at the end of February with 800,000 due at the end of March and a further 1 million doses in April.
The government is promising to prioritise frontline health workers and village health officials in the first wave of vaccination.
Sinovac used by Turkey where according to a trial, it had an efficacy of 90%, Chinese firm claims 79%
The Sinovac vaccine has been used by Turkey and Brazil in recent weeks with mixed reaction. In Turkey, a clinical trial using a small sample of over 1,300 study participants showed the vaccine was 90% effective.
The Turkish health minister was enthusiastic about his country’s decision to use the Chinese vaccine at this time. ‘Now we are sure that the vaccine is effective and safe on Turkish people,’ said Fahrettin Koca.
Of those involved in the test, 26 people who were given a placebo developed the virus while only 3 were infected of those inoculated with the vaccine. The numbers used in the trials of the leading western vaccinations were up to 35 times larger and produced a 95% efficacy result.
In Brazil, a press conference to disclose the result of tests there were rescheduled after reports emerged that the efficacy of the vaccine was only 50%. Sinovac refused to comment on either the study in Turkey or the one in Brazil.
The Chinese company which manufactures the product, Sinopharm, claims it has an efficacy rate of 79%.
About the Author
Carla Boonkong is a magazine writer who writes extensively about woman’s issues in Thailand. One of her key subjects is the story of Thailand’s growing influence in the world and the role played by Thai women in the process. She is now a staff writer with Thai Examiner.com in Bangkok. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.