Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed provincial governors to devise measures to contain COVID-19 over Songkran as health officials warned daily caseloads could top 100,000 after the festival unless precautions are taken.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said on Friday the premier ordered provincial governors and public health officers to prepare for the inter-provincial movement of people returning to their home provinces as daily infections continue to soar.
People have been urged to strictly follow precautions particularly when they visit their elderly relatives and take part in family gatherings.
Family activities should be held in well-ventilated areas and participants should take an antigen test before participating.
Most importantly, elderly people must be fully vaccinated ahead of the festival to avoid the risk of getting infected, the spokesman said, adding public festivities must be held in line with COVID-19 Free Setting guidelines.
Dr Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, director-general of the Department of Health (DOH), said the Public Health Ministry has forecast that daily infections could hit 100,000 after Songkran unless measures are taken.
According to the Department of Disease Control (DDC), this milestone could be reached by the middle of next month in the worst-case scenario.
Precautions include refraining from group activities where possible, working from home more, delaying non-essential travel, maintaining a high vaccination rate and practicing the VUCA (Vaccine, Universal Prevention, COVID-19 Free Setting and ATK) measures.
The DDC said the most optimistic outlook is one where these precautions are fully implemented, in which case daily infections would taper off to around 20,000 from the middle of this month.
In a less optimistic outlook, daily caseloads may rise to 50,000 ahead of Songkran.
In the worst-case scenario, with precautions used sparingly, infections may spike to 100,000 a day until the middle of April, said the DDC.
Somchai Tukaew, director of the DOH’s health impact assessment division, said Songkran will be allowed to proceed partly because more than 70% of Thais have been vaccinated while the symptoms caused by the virus are becoming less severe.
Restrictions have been gradually relaxed under a plan to downgrade the COVID-19 pandemic to endemic status, he said.
However, the DOH has advised at-risk groups including the elderly and those with underlying health problems to get booster shots at least seven days ahead of Songkran.
Participants in festivities should take an antigen test 72 hours in advance, Mr Tukaew added.
After Songkran, returnees from their home provinces are advised to monitor themselves for up to 10 days.
If they develop any suspicious symptoms, they must take an antigen test and avoid meeting people, Mr Tukaew said.
There were 26,050 confirmed new cases and 69 more COVID-19 fatalities during the previous 24 hours, the Public Health Ministry reported on Friday.
Bangkok had the highest number of new cases at 3,739, followed by 1,645 in Nakhon Si Thammarat, 1,090 in Chon Buri and 902 in Samut Prakan.
This was followed by 831 in Samut Sakhon, 655 in Roi Et, 647 in Nonthaburi, 576 in Rayong, 556 in Buri Ram and 535 in Pathum Thani.