Public Health Minister Anutin Chanvirakul said on Thursday that the government is confident it can overcome the current COVID-19 crisis without needing to impose a nationwide lockdown.
Speaking after a meeting of the national committee on communicable diseases, an upbeat Mr Chanvirakul announced: “We have seen no point in imposing a lockdown for the time being.”
“The current cycle of disease has only been two weeks and we have had good cooperation from all stakeholders. What we need to see now is less mobility. If we can do it, we will definitely see a declining number of new infections by next month.”
COVID-19 infections set a record for the second consecutive day on Thursday, with 1,543 cases – 1,540 local infections and 3 imported cases, raising the total to 37,453.
The committee suggested to the government that it ban the drinking of alcohol in restaurants nationwide and forbid mass gatherings, including asking schools and universities nationwide to conduct all their courses online.
It concluded that 18 provinces should be classified as ultimate control (red zone) areas: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Samut Prakan, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Samut Sakhon, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom, Phuket, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nonthaburi, Songkhla, Tak, Udon Thani, Suphan Buri, Sa Kaeo, Rayong and Khon Kaen.
Mr Chanvirakul said the committee widely agreed on a raft of measures to control the disease, including ordering that restaurants shut at 9 pm in red zone provinces and 11 pm elsewhere. The sale of alcohol in restaurants should be outlawed across the country, members said.
Other proposals included a ban on parties and gatherings of more than 50 people, banning all in-person classes and closing amusement parks, even including recreation areas inside department stores.
The proposals will be discussed at Friday’s meeting of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, to be chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. If implemented, the measures would be effective until the end of this month.
Mr Chanvirakul said the national committee would not ask the CCSA to ban interprovincial travel and would instead allow provincial committees on communicable diseases to decide for themselves.
“We only suggest that people who visited home for the Songkran festival should work from home at their hometown for two weeks,” he said. “Full-time wearing of facemasks is also a must when getting outside.”
The minister did not, however, say whether a curfew would be among the measures to be considered on Friday. In April last year, the government implemented both a lockdown and curfew to stop the disease from spreading in its early stages.
Meanwhile, the National Security Council has also asked the CCSA to renew the national state of emergency, according to an official source familiar with the matter.
“But certain provinces with a critical COVID-19 situation would possibly need a curfew,” said the same source, who refused to spell out when the CCSA might impose such curfews.
“At the very least, the COVID-19 outbreak would not stall the new parliamentary session that is due to begin on 22nd May,” said the source.
The source also said that the CCSA and the government would not rush into imposing extreme measures because the government’s economic advisors had asked for more time to assess the economic impact of the heightened COVID-19 restrictions.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said new preventive measures must strike a balance between better containing COVID-19 and the need to shore up the economy.
He declined to say whether the government’s plan to reopen the country on 1st July would be affected by the intensifying COVID-19 situation, saying the outcome of Friday’s CCSA meeting would determine future plans.
Unlike the previous wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, when migrant workers were found to be a primary source of the virus resurgence, the current wave originated in the wealthy Thong Lor area of Bangkok and involved affluent people who had travelled extensively, he said.
Infected migrant workers rarely travelled but these well-to-do people moved around a lot, he said, apparently suggesting that was the reason for the pandemic spreading so quickly to so many parts of the country.
Dr Chawetsan Namwat, acting director for emergency health hazard and disease control at the Department of Disease Control, said the daily rise had been four digits for the second straight day.
Since 1st April, COVID-19 has been reported in 75 provinces, leaving only the two southern provinces of Ranong and Satun untouched.