Thailand sees record new infections ahead of major festival

BANGKOK, THAILAND (AP) — Thailand reported 985 new coronavirus cases yesterday, its highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic, and health officials said they were worried the number of new infections could be far higher after this week’s traditional Thai New Year holiday.

Health experts said the third major surge in the country was proving more difficult to control as it was mostly a variant of the virus first found in the United Kingdom (UK) and has mostly affected younger people because it broke out at nightlife establishments.

“The third wave is different. The origin is the young generation who have active lifestyle. They went to nightlife venues, go back to their hometowns on very long holidays and caused the widespread,” said senior consultant for Health Ministry Dr Tawee Chotpitayasunondh.

Millions of Thais are travelling around the country — often from urban areas to rural villages — for this week’s annual Songkran festival, which marks the traditional Thai New Year. The government has not prevented people from travelling, as it did when it cancelled the festival last year.

The current surge — which has infected at least one Cabinet minister and forced a number of others into self-quarantine — is increasing criticism of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government and its handling of the pandemic.

While Thailand has only recorded 33,610 infections and 97 deaths, critics said the vaccination drive is too slow — less than one per cent of the population has gotten their jabs — and support for people whose livelihoods have been wiped out by the pandemic is lacking.

Medical workers conduct swab tests on passengers at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility outside a hospital in Nonthaburi, Thailand. PHOTO: AP