Thailand faces growing outbreak ahead of New Year travel

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai authorities struggled yesterday to contain a growing coronavirus outbreak just days before the country’s traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday, when millions of people travel.

Health officials reported 559 new infections nationwide yesterday, following increases of 405 cases and 334 cases the previous two days. Authorities have responded by ordering the closure of entertainment venues in 41 provinces for two weeks starting today, while governors of some provinces are placing restrictions on travellers arriving from elsewhere.

Such daily increases are rare for Thailand, which has weathered the coronavirus pandemic far better than many nations through measures including strict border controls that have decimated the country’s lucrative tourism industry. Thailand has also experimented at times with curfews, alcohol bans and closures of schools, shopping malls and restaurants.

Travellers and businesses alike had been hoping that this year’s Songkran holiday could go forward without a spike in infections. The official holiday was cancelled last year to slow the spread of the disease, as it came as the country was experiencing its first major outbreak.

The national government has so far declined to issue blanket travel restrictions this year, though provincial authorities are allowed to set quarantine rules for people coming from high-risk zones such as Bangkok. Several provinces have done so, throwing many people’s travel plans into question.

A health worker collects nasal swab sample from a worker in a local entertainment venue area where a new cluster of COVID-19 infections were found in Bangkok. PHOTO: AP