Thailand cannot yet declare Covid-19 as an endemic disease as the country is still at risk of a fresh wave being triggered, Dr Prasit Watanapa, dean of Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine, warned on Monday.
About two years into the pandemic, everyone wants to see the end of the spread of the virus but the disease cannot yet be declared endemic, he said during a Siriraj Hospital Facebook Live session.
He said the virus can still trigger a new outbreak and the country must still fully vaccinate people to reduce severe cases and deaths.
“This is a critical point,” he said, as the kingdom begins to ease travel restrictions. “Several countries are still battling infections.”
“[Measures] to stimulate the economy and bring in money could bring back Covid-19,” he added. “So, we must mitigate the risks by focusing on prevention and treatment.”
“It is best to vaccinate people and give boosters [for full protection],” he noted.
He said that more than 2 million Thais are not vaccinated and 10% have received only received one dose.
Citing Friday’s global Covid-19 situation, he said deaths last week reached the lowest point since the beginning of the outbreak in 2020.
The decline in fatalities could be attributed to two factors: the less severe Omicron variant and an increase in vaccinations, he said.
He said Omicron is highly transmissible but less deadly than the Delta variant.
He said that endemic status does not mean Covid-19 will no longer be life-threatening.
Malaria is an endemic disease that kills 400,000 people a year, he said.
How soon a country can declare Covid-19 as endemic depends on vaccination rates, he said, adding cooperation is needed from all parties concerned for Covid-19 to be labelled as endemic in Thailand.
Vaccination remains essential, especially among members of vulnerable groups during the transition, he said.
Discussing the planned scrapping of the “Test & Go” scheme, he said it should be applied to fully vaccinated travellers who received a booster shot no longer than three months ago.
Travellers who do not meet the criteria should be tested for Covid-19 and quarantined to help Thailand contain the spread of Covid-19, he said.
Last week, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) decided that the “Test & Go” and RT-PCR testing for foreign arrivals will end this month.
From May 1, fully vaccinated travellers will only need to take self-antigen tests during their stay in the kingdom.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Monday that the country has not specified when Covid-19 will be given endemic status.
The key factors considered for this include infection and death rates and the number of drugs and medical supplies the country has, he said, adding the bed occupancy rate is declining.
He also said severe cases and deaths will become the focus, not the number of daily infections, when asked about a drop in daily caseloads.
It has been speculated the daily infections decreased because many people did not undergo testing.
The CCSA on Monday reported 14,994 confirmed new cases and 124 fatalities during the previous 24 hours, a decrease from 17,784 new cases and 126 deaths reported the previous day.