BURIRAM — Transport minister Saksayam Chidchob on Wednesday said he tested positive for the coronavirus.
The 58-year-old minister said he was admitted to a hospital in his home province of Buriram this morning after experiencing a high fever. He has since been put in isolation and under medical supervision, he said.
Saksayam became the highest-ranking official to date known to have been infected with the virus. He said he believes he caught the virus from his aide who tested positive earlier and denied news reports that he is the minister who had visited nightlife venues in Bangkok’s Thonglor and Ekkamai areas, where a new cluster of infection was reported among partygoers in recent days.
His official travel history is yet to be published, though his public schedule shows that he attended numerous events, including a Cabinet meeting, over the past 14 days.
The entire score of Bhumjaithai MPs were asked to isolate themselves and refrain from joining the ongoing parliamentary session on a referendum bill after they attended the same party event with Saksayam, who serves as the party’s secretary, on Tuesday.
At least eight Cabinet members also went into self-isolation after coming in contact with Saksayam and other COVID-19 patients. Speaking before today’s virtual Cabinet meeting, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said he ordered all government-sponsored events to be canceled in order to curb the spread of the virus.
“I don’t feel stressed,” Gen. Prayut said. “I instructed every Cabinet member to share the responsibility and asked them not to make things worse. As for Saksayam, he will receive treatment like any sick citizen. I’m not stressed about it, and we must help build confidence.”
The country has seen yet another surge of infections stemming from Bangkok’s nightlife scene over the past weeks.
Health officials discovered at least 291 positive cases across 15 provinces as of Wednesday.
They urged those who visited entertainment venues, which include Krystal Club, Baan Phahol, Ekamai Beer House, Bar Bar Bar, Dollar Bangkok, The Cassette Ekkamai, Dirty Bar, as well as the EmQuartier and the Emporium shopping malls, last month to get tested immediately.
Earlier this week, the Bangkok City Hall closed 196 entertainment venues in three districts of Klong Toey, Bang Khae and Watthana for two weeks to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The new cluster came ahead of the Songkran festival next week, as people prepare to travel around the country and reunite with their families.
Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Tuesday people can still travel freely without the need for self-isolation, though some provinces began to impose travel restrictions for people coming from Bangkok and its four neighboring provinces of Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, and Nakhon Pathom.
“Only those who are infected or at high risk of infection have to go into isolation,” Anutin said.
As of Wednesday, people traveling from Bangkok metropolis to Bueng Kan, Khon Kaen, and Buriram provinces must notify their arrival to local health authorities and go into self-isolation for 14 days.
In today’s news briefing, Thailand’s leading virologist Yong Poovorawan confirmed that the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant of coronavirus, which was first detected in Britain, was found among 24 partygoers.
“We are surprised to find the U.K. variant, which is 1.7 times more contagious than typical variants,” Yong said. “Even though we have all the measures in place to block the importation of the virus, it still managed to slip through. Therefore, we must minimize movement of people as much as possible.”
The government’s pandemic response center reported 334 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, with no new fatalities, bringing the total tally to 29,905 cases and 95 deaths.