Thailand’s daily COVID infections hit record

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand reported more than 1,300 new COVID-19 infections yesterday, setting another daily record and adding pressure on the government to speed up a nearly non-existent vaccination drive and do more to control a surge that comes amid mass travel as the country celebrates its traditional New Year festival.

The 1,335 new infections brings the number of new cases to nearly 7,000 since April 1, when a cluster linked to entertainment venues in central Bangkok was found. Most of the new cases reported yesterday were yet again in Bangkok, but also seeing hefty increases were the northern province of Chiang Mai and the southern seaside province of Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Many of the new infections are a more contagious variant of the virus first found in the United Kingdom (UK) and that coupled with widespread travel for the Songkran festival, or Thai New Year, is fuelling the surge, said Director-General of the Disease Control Department Dr Opas Karnkavinpong. The festival officially began on Tuesday and lasts for three days, but many people travel for a week.

Large daily increases in new infections had been rare for Thailand, which has weathered the 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 everything from curfews to closures of schools, shopping malls and restaurants.

Thailand has reported just 35,910 infections and 97 deaths since the pandemic began, yet it has vaccinated less than one per cent of its population and yesterday reported fewer than 800 people had been given vaccine doses in the past day.

A man undergoes a swab test at a COVID-19 mobile testing unit in Khaosan Road in Bangkok. PHOTO: AP

With millions of Thais moving around the country — often from urban areas to rural villages — for Songkran, Prime Minister Prayauth Chan-ocha and his government have faced questions as to why they didn’t prevent people from traveling as they did last year when they cancelled the festival at a time when the country was reporting far fewer infections.

Opas said that Thailand’s policy of hospitalising all infected patients whether they have symptoms or not needed to continue as the “main strategy” to control the current surge.

“We cannot risk more infections caused by those who break their home quarantine and wander to other places,” he said at a daily press briefing.