Nightlife clusters expose virus stumbles

Praying for divine intervention: People praying at a temple to celebrate Thailand’s Buddhist New Year, known locally as Songkran, amid public safety restrictions on the festival due to the resurgence of the coronavirus. — AFP

When the country’s transport minister was recently diagnosed with Covid-19, it was Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who got a headache.

Prayut was not particularly lauded for his leadership last year against the coronavirus, but for much of 2020 Thailand fought the disease to a standstill, with low infection and death rates that were envied by more developed countries.

Now, an outbreak at nightspots in the Bangkok has sent new infections surging, suggesting that the country may have been lulled into a false sense of security before mass vaccinations begin.

Yesterday, 1,543 new cases were confirmed, taking the total to 37,453, with 97 deaths.

While that is much better than most other countries, Thailand’s cases in the first three months of this year were triple what the country had all of last year and its daily numbers are rising fast.

The government says Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob caught the virus from an aide who patronised some of the infectious nightspots, including a club described by Thai media as a glorified strip joint that blatantly ignored social distancing precautions.

That has added to widespread scepticism over the government’s handling of the latest crisis.

Officials had appeared reluctant to impose sweeping restrictions like curfews, bans on serving alcohol and closures of bars, parks and shopping malls that were the rule this time last year, when Songkran or Thai New Year holidays were cancelled.

This week, the holiday went ahead, and as many as a million Thais headed out to visit family or crowded onto beaches, even as some hospitals halted Covid-19 testing due to a rush by thousands of people worried that they had been exposed or needing proof that they were virus-free.

A worst case scenario from the Department of Disease Control’s epidemiology division calculated that without safety measures, the country could see a maximum of 28,678 daily cases.

“The situation is still worrisome; more measures are to come, ” Dr. Opas Karnkavinpong, the department’s director-general, warned on Tuesday. — AP

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