Thailand confirms first local cases of coronavirus variant

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand has confirmed its first local cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom (UK), raising the likelihood that it is facing a new wave of the pandemic, a senior doctor said yesterday.

The variant was found in blood samples from 24 people in a new cluster of cases involving customers of nightlife venues in the capital, Bangkok, said Virologist from the Faculty of Medicine at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Dr Yong Pooworavan.

Speaking at a Health Ministry news conference, Yong described the variant as 1.7 times more contagious than the original coronavirus, still more common in Thailand. The variant was found in Thailand for the first time in January in four members of a family arriving from Britain who had been quarantined.

The new cluster from nightspots, along with another at a prison in the southern province of Narathiwat, had already caused major concern.

Bangkok city officials on Monday ordered the closing for two weeks of almost 200 bars and other nightspots in three areas linked to the new cases.

Many international schools in the city cancelled classes for the week, in some cases substituting remote learning.

The new virus threat comes at a particularly vulnerable time for Thailand. Next week Thais celebrate the traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday, which usually sees an exodus of people from cities to visit relatives in other provinces and is generally celebrated for an entire week. The official holiday was postponed last year to slow the spread of the disease, as it came as the country was experiencing its first major outbreak.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has so far brushed aside the idea of banning inter-provincial travel for this year’s holiday.

A health worker administers a dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to a person working at an entertainment venue where a new cluster of COVID-19 infections was found, in Bangkok. PHOTO: AP