Business leaders are urging the public not to panic over the discovery of Thailand’s first Omicron coronavirus variant infection, saying a lockdown will spell disaster for the economy, which is still struggling to recover.
The chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, Supant Mongkolsuthree, said there is no need for the public and the government to panic over the new strain, as a lockdown will deal a serious blow to the Thai economy, which is just starting to show signs of rebounding.
“A lockdown is not the answer. We must figure out how to co-exist [with the virus],” he said, noting that the number of new cases is on the decline, with recoveries consistently outnumbering hospital admissions.
”The situation is starting to look up. During a recent trip to Phuket, local residents told me that things are finally improving,” he said. “This means we are heading in the right direction. People should not panic, otherwise the economy will not survive.”
The chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Sanan Angubolkul, agreed with Mr Supant, saying bringing back lockdowns will hurt Thailand’s image internationally.
“It will scare off [tourists from] foreign countries because Thailand had just lifted its lockdown,” he said, adding Thais are “experienced” in protecting themselves against the virus.
“Don’t worry too much. However, the 10 million Thais who have yet to be vaccinated should get their shots quickly,” he warned.
Thailand confirmed its first Omicron variant infection on Monday, after tests showed that the American businessman of Thai descent who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving from Spain was infected by the heavily mutated variant.
The director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences (DMS) Supakit Sirilak, said RT-PCR tests confirmed that the 35-year-old was infected with the Omicron variant.
According to the Department of Disease Control’s director-general, Opas Karnkawinpong, the US citizen underwent RT-PCR testing in Spain on 28th November, the result of which came back negative for COVID-19.
The next day, he flew to Dubai where he transited for nine hours before he left for Thailand on 30th November, Dr Karnkawinpong said.
He flew on Emirates flight EK372 from Dubai to Suvarnabhumi airport, during which he showed no symptoms, Dr Opas said, noting the man was inoculated with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
However, Dr Karnkawinpong said, the RT-PCR test taken right after the patient landed showed that he was infected with COVID-19.
The DMS is carrying out more tests, while the man is currently being treated at a hospital, the DDC director-general said.
Dr Karnkawinpong said that while the Omicron variant is more highly transmissible than other variants, most patients infected with the new strain show no symptoms or mild symptoms similar to flu.
Most Omicron cases found in other countries did not require hospitalisation and there have been no reports of deaths caused by the new variant yet, Dr Karnkawinpong said.
Dr Sirilak urged the government not to replace RT-PCR testing with rapid antigen testing, as he expected more cases will be detected as more tourists arrive in the country.
“If there is one case, there will be a second and third case,” he said.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o- cha is confident in the screening process for visitors and the ability of the kingdom’s health system to fight the pandemic.
The prime minister and health experts are working closely to monitor the situation, the spokesman added.
Mr Wangboonkongchana also said that the government’s current policies and measures regarding COVID-19 remain unchanged.
Any changes will have to be discussed at the next meeting of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, the spokesman said.
Thailand is the 47th country to detect the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the kingdom logged 4,000 new COVID-19 cases and 22 new fatalities during the previous 24 hours, the Public Health Ministry announced on Monday.