Government Considering Tighter Restrictions As COVID-19 Cases Surge

Anutin Charnvirakul Speaks
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

The government is considering tightening anti-Covid measures on Valentine’s Day and the Songkran holiday period in response to a rapid increase in new infections.

Gen Supoj Malaniyom, head of operations at the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), chaired a meeting to discuss the recent spike of new cases on Thursday, with the Department of Disease Control providing updates on the situation.

A source at the meeting said those present expressed concern about the rise in daily case numbers over the past several days. The country registered 14,822 new coronavirus cases and 20 more COVID-19 fatalities during the previous 24 hours, the Public Health Ministry announced on Thursday.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will chair a CCSA meeting on Friday to consider tougher measures to curb the spread of the virus on Valentine’s Day and during the Songkran holiday period, the source said.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is also handing out 2 million free condoms in a campaign for safe sex ahead of Valentine’s Day, with sexually transmitted infections on the rise among the young.

Panruedee Manomaiphiboon, director of the BMA’s health department, said on Thursday the condoms would be available for free in all 50 districts of the capital under City Hall’s “Start Safe Sex, Use Condom” campaign. Last year there were 6,450 cases of sexually transmitted diseases recorded in Bangkok, and the number was rising each year, she said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he will provide an update on the COVID-19 situation at the CCSA’s meeting on Friday.

The meeting will revise measures to deal with the increasing number of daily infections, he said.

Despite the steep increase in new cases, the number of fatalities and people with severe symptoms remains low, Mr Charnvirakul said.

“People who have been fully vaccinated and still test positive are mostly asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, as predicted by medical experts,” he said. “However, they are still required to follow precautions strictly and get their booster shot as quickly as possible. It may take about a month and a half before case numbers go down. We have to try to co-exist with COVID-19.”

At the CCSA’s meeting, he said he will also propose COVID-19 patients be delisted from the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (Ucep) scheme. The scheme has listed COVID-19 as an emergency illness enabling patients to seek treatment at their nearest private or state hospitals free of charge in the first 72 hours.

After the delisting, COVID-19 patients will still be eligible to free treatment under other schemes such as the gold card universal health scheme, and social security health benefits.

“The change will not affect people. The state will still subsidise the expenses, except those who seek services not covered by those health schemes,” Mr Charnvirakul said. “For example, if they want to go to a private hospital, they have to pay their own bills.”

Mr Charnvirakul also downplayed a suggestion by the Department of Health that those planning to have sex on Valentine’s Day get tested for COVID-19 using a rapid antigen test kit before making love.

“Don’t worry. Most of them already have close relations,” Mr Charnvirakul said.

Bangkok on Thursday reported having the most number of new cases at 2,635, followed by 986 in Samut Prakan, 754 in Chon Buri, 504 in Nonthaburi, 434 in Phuket, 379 in Ratchaburi, 372 in Nakhon Si Thammarat, 334 in Nakhon Ratchasima, 317 in Samut Sakhon and 301 in Maha Sarakham.