The Ministry of Public Health is preparing to declare COVID-19 an endemic disease in Thailand by the end of the year, saying the country is capable of bringing the coronavirus pandemic under control, given the high vaccination rate.
The ministry’s permanent secretary, Kiatiphum Wongrajit, said the national committee on communicable diseases has agreed in principle to start treating COVID-19 as an endemic disease.
Dr Wongrajit said COVID-19 will reach this status when the fatality rate reaches 1:1000, at least 80% of the population has received at least two vaccine shots, and effective treatment has become readily accessible.
Furthermore, he said, daily infections must consistently stay below 10,000 cases, and the hospitalisation rate should also be lower than 10%.
“In principle, [we acknowledge] the disease could still spread, but it won’t be severe,” Dr Wongrajit said. “Most importantly, people must have adequate protection against Covid, both through vaccinations and effective treatments.”
He said all other agencies will adjust their criteria to reflect those of the ministry — the details of which will be announced before the end of the year.
When asked if such a move was premature, considering the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to downgrade the threat posed by COVID-19, Dr Wongrajit cautioned that it could be a mistake to wait for the WHO, and that the move concerns domestic matters.
“It might be too late if we wait for the WHO,” he said.
According to the ministry’s figures, of the 75% of the population who have received at least one COVID-19 jab, 69.5% have received their second dose, while 19% have had three doses.
Thiravat Hemachudha, head of the Emerging Diseases Science Centre at Chulalongkorn University, disagreed with the plan, saying it is still too early for such a move.
“I see no reason to rush into labelling the disease as an endemic, except that the government is now facing difficulties in subsidising treatment and relief for those affected by COVID-19,” he said, adding that once COVID-19 is declared an endemic, the government won’t have to pay treatment costs.
“In the endemic phase, people should be able to go about their lives without masks and antigen testing,” he said.