Beta-variant cluster spreads to 12 provinces

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A Beta variant cluster in Yala has led to 402 cases in 12 provinces, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) said on Monday. The Beta strain of the virus was first identified in South Africa, where it has become the dominant variant.

“The cluster at Markaz Community at Poryani village in Yala province, which consists of schools and places of worship, has led to 402 cases and 11 other provinces,” said Dr Apisamai Srirangson, the CCSA’s spokeswoman.

The Poryani cluster, as it has been called by local news, has led to 111 cases in Narathiwat followed by 102 cases in Yala, 46 cases in Satun, 46 cases in Pattani, 36 cases in Songkhla, 18 in Krabi, 13 in Phatthalung and 10 in Nakhon Si Thammarat, nine in Surat Thani, five in Phang Nga and three each in Trang and Phuket, the CCSA said.

The Yala Provincial Public Health Office said on Sunday the predominant variant in the cluster is the Beta variant, which was first discovered in South Africa.  

“The index case was first reported on June 9 but further investigation found that the actual index case was actually found since May 29 but it was not reported as a cluster back then,” Apisamai said.

She said there are 3,000-4,000 people living in the Markaz Community. Of that, around 500 are students who travelled from 17 provinces to study at the community.

Yala had last week introduced a partial lockdown to restrict people’s movements, temporary close down at-risk businesses and ban dining in restaurants until July 7.

There is also a ban on religious gatherings until the end of June.

Dr Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences (DMS) said on Monday that the Beta variant is spreading slower than other variants and it is still being contained within the Southern region.

However, the variant is leading to more severe cases and related deaths than the original Covid-19 strain that first arrived in Thailand from China.

In terms of vaccine effectiveness against the Beta variant, Dr Supakit said the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is becoming Thailand’s main vaccine, has only a 10.4-per-cent chance to protect against infection from the Beta variant and it cannot prevent severe symptoms.

A study also showed that the level of protection offered by the Sinovac vaccine, another main vaccine in the country, dropped by 70 per cent against the Beta variant, he added.

South Africa has put a hold on the use of AstraZeneca in February after data showed that it gave minimal protection against the Beta variant which is the dominant variant in their country.

However, the United Kingdom’s health minister Matt Hancock said on June 2 that they are looking to procure more AstraZeneca vaccines that are being modified to better target the Beta variant.

The DMS said last week that the dominating variant in Thailand is still the Alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom.

Of the 5,055 samples that were taken from around the country between April 7 and June 13, 4,528 or 89.6 per cent were identified as the Alpha variant, 496 or 9.8 per cent were Delta variant, and the remaining 31 cases were Beta variant.

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