A few days ago, the parents of my daughter’s friend asked me if the number of cases Thailand was seeing was actually much higher than those we see on the news every morning. They had heard from some doctor friends that the rate of infection was being under reported by the ministry and by the government.
The truth of the matter is that we will never know the exact number of people who get infected because the government’s policy isn’t designed to do the so. The vast majority of new cases that we report are those who have come in for testing. Acting case finding is next to nothing and we don’t have a policy or the money in place to do mass testing around the country.
And people need to know that there is nothing wrong with that.
There is nothing wrong with that because our vaccination program is now fully underway and we are doing quite well in that regard despite earlier hiccups.
There is also nothing wrong with this policy because eventually every country in the world is going to have to learn to live with SARS-Cov-2. The rate of infection and the multitude of current and future mutations means that there will never be a vaccine that eradicates this virus only vaccines that get better and better at mitigating its impact.
Already we are seeing the work in our country. Death rates have steadily lowered since the rate of vaccination picked up and will continue to do so. Even Sinovac, the vaccine that everyone loves to hate, significantly lowers the risk of death when it comes to SARS-Cov-2.
That doesn’t mean of course that the general public should take it easy and use relaxed regulations as a signal to be irresponsible. Mask wearing, social distancing, regular hand washing should now become a part of everyday life. It will never go away just like this virus. But as the entire world slowly builds its immunity towards the disease, so to should our mindset change about infection numbers and transmission data. They should not be cause for panic or alarm anymore but data information used to build better policy and how to acquire better vaccines.
Learning to live with Covid will be the challenge that our country faces in the next year, same as a multitude of other countries. Once we do, we can get back to normal.
Professor Jintana S. is a public health professor at several universities in Bangkok and an advisor to the Ministry of Public Health.