Prayut to Tighten COVID-19 Measures Amid Surging Cases

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha directed health officials in key tourist areas to keep a close watch on Covid-19 case numbers, as new infections keep rising following the holidays.

This order came after Gen Prayut received information on caseloads from April 16-22 from the Department of Disease Control, revealing increasing numbers of new Covid-19 cases, according to government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri.

Gen Prayut has specific concerns for people in the “608” group, which consists of senior citizens, those with chronic health conditions, and medical personnel and frontline workers, Mr. Anucha explained.

He advised individuals in this group to get a booster shot to ensure their Covid-19 vaccinations are current, adding that the Public Health Ministry has been told to monitor the spread of the XBB.1.16 sub-strain of the Omicron variant.

The DDC’s estimates suggest that new case numbers this week will be about double those of last week, particularly in tourist hotspots like Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Chon Buri.

Mr. Anucha, referring to the Department of Medical Sciences, said that XBB.1.16 is a recombinant or hybrid strain of BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 sublineages of the novel coronavirus.

This strain is more transmissible and immune-evasive than XBB.1.5, but there is no evidence that it leads to severe symptoms, he added.

Mr. Anucha continued, stating that the Public Health Ministry anticipates a rise in Covid infections during the upcoming rainy season, which begins next month.

In preparation for this surge, the Public Health Ministry has updated its vaccination guidelines, now advising everyone to receive a Covid-19 booster shot annually, preferably before the rainy season starts.

Any vaccine type is acceptable, and people should get a booster shot at least three months after their previous dose or recovery from an earlier infection. He also noted that it is safe to receive an influenza vaccine simultaneously.

Mr. Anucha still encourages people to take precautionary measures, like wearing masks in crowded areas or on public transportation.

Tares Krassanairawiwong, DDC’s director-general, reported that new caseloads have been increasing since Songkran.

With 1,088 new infections this week, there have been about 155 new cases daily, a 2.5-fold increase compared to the previous week. Dr. Tares expects this trend to continue for the next two weeks.

However, Dr. Tares assured that Thailand has enough medical supplies and hospital beds to accommodate Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms.

Individuals with weakened immune system (immunocompromised) can choose to receive a long-acting antibody (LAAB) shot at hospitals and medical facilities across the country, said Dr. Tares.

On Thursday, the National Committee on Communicable Diseases agreed that the 608 group can receive a free annual Covid-19 vaccine shot at state-owned hospitals, which can be administered alongside a flu vaccine, starting this year.

The XBB variant sub-strains have been linked to recent global increases in Covid-19 cases, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to reclassify the XBB.1.16 sub-substrain from a “variant under monitoring” to a “variant of interest”.

On Tuesday, the Department of Medical Sciences announced that Thailand identified six new cases of the Omicron XBB.1.16 subvariant, while another patient is infected with XBB.1.16.1.