Virologist Yong Poovorawan, one of the country’s most authoritative voices on COVID-19 transmission, has warned a third or even fourth wave of COVID-19 could emerge as a result of the government policy to encourage people to enjoy themselves and spend more during the upcoming Songkran festival.
“Be prepared to see the daily infection rates jump from tens to hundreds per day after the Songkran festival,” Dr Poovorawan said.
“We have become too complacent and that means we need to waste a lot of financial resources for testing, monitoring and curing the disease.”
Dr Poovorawan, the chief of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University, on Sunday wrote on his Facebook page in response to the report of infections in pubs in the Thong Lor area last week. Restaurants and bars in Thong Lor in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit area were the source of a cluster of infections last year.
Dr Poovorawan said the relaxed measures in entertainment areas are the main factor when quick transmission occurs.
Despite the availability of vaccines, Dr Poovorawan warned that rates of inoculation in Thailand and around the world could not keep up with infections and it would take another two years for vaccination efforts to immunise 70% of the world population.
After fewer cases were reported, COVID-19 infections on Sunday made a comeback in the capital as health authorities said cases linked to the entertainment cluster had risen to 71, according to Department of Disease Control (DDC) director-general Opas Karnkawinpong.
Dr Karnkawinpong said the cases linked to the entertainment cluster rose to 71 and are scattered in Bangkok (45), Pathum Thani (11), Nonthaburi (8) and Nakhon Pathom (7).
There was even an unsubstantiated rumour Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow was infected as he had visited one of the venues in Thong Lor on 25th March and attended a cabinet meeting a few days later.
Mr Punmeechaow’s team was reported as denying he had exposed anyone to any risks. However, the minister already took a COVID-19 test at a state hospital in Udon Thani province and plans to get vaccinated soon, according to Dr Karnkawinpong.
Possible cluster infections were also reported in other regions.
In Khon Kaen province, Srinagarind Hospital announced it would suspend treating new patients and postpone operations for uninfected people after two of its doctors tested positive for COVID-19.
Dr Pongsak Kiatchusakul, director of Srinagarind Hospital, said all hospital staff and patients who had been in close contact with the infected doctors between 22nd March – 2nd April had been told to report for testing and quarantine.
It was confirmed the first doctor contracted the virus last Friday. He went to a restaurant and shopped at a department store, before meeting with colleagues and some patients.
The second doctor had reportedly been in contact with an infected person while attending a concert at a restaurant, Magenta, in Hugz Mall in Khon Kaen on 26th March.
Meanwhile, Thai singer, Violette Wautier, who performed at the Magenta restaurant, posted the result of her own COVID-19 test on Instagram showing a negative result on Sunday.
Jaruek Laoprasert, the Khon Kaen deputy governor, said despite the new COVID-19 cases, the Songkran festival would still be held as planned.
Meanwhile, the Corrections Department on Sunday imposed a ban preventing relatives from visiting inmates at prisons nationwide, according to the Corrections Department’s director-general Aryut Sinthoppan.
The temporary ban came after 112 officials and inmates at Narathiwat Prison were reported to have been infected with the virus.