BANGKOK (Xinhua) — Despite Thailand passing a record 80 days free from locally acquired infections of COVID-19, Thai health experts warned on Monday that the country is not immune to a second wave of infections.
“The Thais have become convinced that the country is completely free from COVID-19 cases and are now lowering their guard. By not wearing a face mask, frequently washing hands and maintaining social distancing, they have built risks,” warned Professor Dr. Thiravat Hemachudha, director of the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Center.
“This is the typical factors that will trigger a fresh surge of infections nationwide,” Thiravat said, adding “it may appear that Thailand had already eradicated COVID-19, but there might be infected people out there who are asymptomatic.”
Young people who are still healthy may not show any symptoms after getting the virus. But though asymptomatic, they can spread the disease, he said.
He added that using public transportation heightened the risk of infection because bus users, for example, were no longer socially distancing.
Allowing young children to return to class is also a big risk because it is difficult to keep them apart, the health expert said.
“As for people travelling here from overseas, strict screening and quarantine must be in place.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Public Health’s Disease Control Department, agreed that the chances of Thailand facing a second wave of COVID-19 are high.
“We cannot say it will not happen, but hopefully, Thailand will be able to contain and stem as soon as possible before it spreads like wildfire.”
“However, to achieve this, the public will need to change their attitude.”
“Even after a COVID-19 vaccine is made available, the disease will still be around. It’s just that precautions and vaccinations will prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming hospitals.”
Tanarak warned that Thailand may experience similar situations in Vietnam, where local cases reemerged after having successfully controlled the outbreak.
He recommended that work forces keep workers at home as much as possible, or at least arrange flexible working hours to avoid crowding.
“Physical distancing measures must also be in place. Closed, air-conditioned places have a 19-times higher risk of COVID-19 transmission than outdoor spots,” he said.
Medical facilities, meanwhile, must continue to actively seek COVID-19 cases, he added.
“For example, they should conduct a COVID-19 test on any patient suffering from lung inflammation. Don’t wait until a cluster happens,” he said.
Thai health authorities have also prepared for a possible new eruption of COVID-19.
According to the Ministry of Public Helath, there are now 1.12 million N95 face masks and 511,000 personal-protective-equipment sets in stock for medical staff.
“We also have 11,000 ventilators available,” Tanarak said. “This is over and above the supply of medicines such as Favipiravir for treatment of coronavirus patients.”
He added that all returnees from overseas faced mandatory COVID-19 tests and immediate isolation and medical treatment if found infected.
“Being alert and reacting fast should help us contain the second wave, when it occurs,” he said.