The Public Health Ministry is setting its sights on declaring the spread of the coronavirus disease as endemic within the next four months, said its top official.
Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, said the fatality rate in the current Omicron wave is significantly lower than during the previous outbreak.
Even though lung infections are on the rise, these numbers are also proportionally lower relative to previous caseloads, he added.
Public Health Ministry spokesman Rungruang Kitpati said the fatalities were 10 times lower and studies suggested they will be slashed in half again if 60%-70% of elderly people get a third jab.
Dr Wongrajit said the ministry will hold a press conference soon to outline its management plan for transitioning to managing an endemic disease.
In early January, the ministry said it intended to downgrade COVID-19 to an endemic disease this year as the current wave showed mild symptoms and more people receive vaccines.
Dr Wongrajit also defended the ministry’s plan to remove COVID-19 treatments for patients with no or mild symptoms from the list of conditions covered by the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (Ucep) scheme.
He said budget planning would have to be reviewed for financial sustainability, noting that about 100 billion baht of the Ucep fund has been spent treating COVID-19 patients at both state-run and private hospitals, while another 100 billion baht had financed the vaccination rollout.
He insisted this group of patients would still be entitled to free treatment under the state welfare schemes they registered with, while moderate and severe cases remain covered by the Ucep scheme.
According to Dr Wongrajit, patients with mild symptoms are being urged to enter home or community isolation programmes to free up hospital beds for moderate and severe cases and non-COVID patients.
“It isn’t just about budget planning. It’s about changing people’s attitudes to prepare for an endemic disease. When patients have very mild symptoms, they take medicine and rest. If the symptoms worsen, it is time to see a doctor,” he said.
He said the ministry is prepared to adjust the duration of medical treatment for COVID-19 patients and the quarantine period for high-risk contacts.
Officials said lockdown measures are very unlikely to be reimposed despite the surge in infections.