Thailand finds S African variant of virus, considers extra quarantine measures

The Thai government said on Monday that it is considering to increase the mandatory quarantine period for people arriving from South Africa after finding its first case of the Covid-19 variant at the weekend.

Dr Apisamai Srirangsan, the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA)’s spokeswoman, said the period could be extended from 14 to 21 days for arrivals from South Africa after a 41-year-old Thai businessman tested positive in quarantine at the weekend after returning from a trip to Tanzania.

Measures could include extending the quarantine period from the current two weeks to 21 days for arrivals from South Africa, and possibly from the UK, she said. The UK has reported some cases of the South African variant, as well as an outbreak of its own variant of the virus.

The patient told the CCSA that he might have contracted the virus at a party where most of the participants were not wearing facemasks, as the Tanzania’s government said the country was free from Covid-19.

He arrived back in Thailand without any symptoms on 29 January before testing positive for the virus in state quarantine on 3 February. Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Centre found out that it was the new variant on 12 February.   

After the discovery, tests were performed on the 41 officials and staffs working at the state quarantine facility and the hospital that the patient has visited. The results were all negative.

The CCSA said there have been 735 cases of the new variant in South Africa, followed by the United Kingdom (131), Belgium (48), Mozambique (41), Botswana (32), France (31), the Netherlands (31), Mayotte (27), Switzerland (21), Australia (15), Germany (10), Ireland (10) and the United States (8).

Other variants have been discovered, in particular a strain thought to have originated in the UK and another in Brazil.

Latest test results have shown that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that Thailand is buying and producing is less effective against the new variant, which scientists believe to spread faster than its predecessor.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that the vaccine would still have a significant impact on the new variant, especially for preventing severe cases, and it will be proceeding with the use of the vaccine.

The South African government has now halted the rolling out of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for now and they are now going to buy new vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer as well.

Apisamai did not answer when asked live on air about the effectiveness of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine against the South African coronavirus variant.

The majority of Thailand’s vaccination plan depends on the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the 2 million doses that they are buying from Sinovac and the government has been heavily criticized by opposition and protestors for only buying from two producers.

Bangkok and Pathumthani clusters

No new case has been found from the recent cluster at Chulalongkorn University’s staff residence in Bangkok but a new cluster is emerging at a fresh market in Pathumthani.

Apisamai said that 1,205 tests have been conducted at markets and communities near the Chula Niwat Staff Residence Hall, where the first patient from the cluster was found, between February 8 and February 12.

No new cases have been found besides the 20 confirmed cases that have been previously linked to the cluster. However, the CCSA is still waiting for the results of around 100 more samples, she added.

As for the new cluster that was found at Talad Phornphat market in Pathumthani, it had now led to 182 cases between 7 February and 13 February.

Of those, 164 were found in Pathumthani followed by Nakhon Nayok (7), Phetchaburi (3), Saraburi (2), Bangkok (2) and one case each in Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, Nakhon Ratchasima and Phrae.

The market is now closed and an ongoing active case finding process is ongoing at other markets and communities near it.

Daily numbers

The CCSA said it had found 143 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

Of those, 132 were local infections and 11 were found in quarantine facilities.

Of the 132 local infections, 64 were found via tests at medical facilities and 68 via proactive tests at high-risk communities, mostly in Samut Sakhon and Pathumthani.

This brings the total number of infections since the pandemic began last year to 24,714 cases. While 22,883 people have recovered from the disease, 1,749 patients are still being treated.

There were two new fatalities, bringing the death toll up to 82 people.

One of the deceases was a 62-year-old male who sells vegetables in Ubon Ratchathani and he was living with diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure. The second patient was an elderly 78-year-old male from Samut Sakhon who contracted the virus from a family member.

The second wave of the outbreak has led to 20,477 confirmed cases and 22 deaths since December 15. Of the total confirmed cases during the second wave, 79 per cent were found in Samut Sakhon alone.

Clusters and provinces

The second wave of the outbreak has reached 63 out of the 77 provinces in Thailand so far.

The number of provinces that are still reporting cases has dropped from 24 provinces during 17 January and 23 January down to 11 provinces between 7 February and 13 February. 

The hardest-hit province continues to be Samut Sakhon, where the second wave began, which reported 15,577 confirmed cases between December 18 and February 14.

This was followed by Bangkok (924), Chonburi (650), Rayong (584), Samut Prakan (362), Pathumthani (262), Chanthaburi (221), Nonthaburi (171), Tak (136) and Ang Thong (113).

Of the 132 local infections reported on Monday, 69 were found in Samut Sakhon followed by Pathumthani (50), Nakhon Pathom (8), Chonburi (2) and one each in Bangkok, Samut Songkhram and Phetchaburi.

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