Thailand virus outbreak sparks concerns over intensive care units and vaccine supply

BANGKOK (AP) – Thai health officials reported more than 6,200 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, setting a record for a third day in a row, as concerns grew over shortages of treatment facilities and vaccine supplies .

Authorities also reported 41 deaths, bringing the total to 2,181.

About 90% of the more than 271,000 coronavirus cases reported in Thailand and 95% of deaths were recorded in a wave that began in early April. There were 992 deaths in June, more than 15 times Thailand’s total for all of 2020.

The number of intensive care and ventilated patients has increased across the country in the past two weeks.

The Government Center for Administering the COVID-19 Situation said 39% of new cases reported were in Bangkok, 25% in neighboring provinces and 36% in the other 71 provinces. Center deputy spokesperson Apisamai Srirangsan said authorities in Bangkok must urgently set up isolation stations to separate infected people in their local communities and add beds for treatment of severe cases.

Critics since the start of the year have accused Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government of failing to secure adequate and timely vaccine supplies, and efforts to secure more have progressed slowly.

At a briefing with the Ministry of Health on Friday, experts painted a grim picture of the priority to be given to those vaccinated.

Epidemiologist Kamnuan Ungchoosak said the arrival of the delta variant of the virus, considered more contagious, could take the death toll to 1,400 in July and more in the months to come.

He said 80% of the deaths were in the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, and if they are vaccinated, it could significantly reduce the death rate while reducing the demand for intensive care beds. About 10% of elderly and infirm patients die, while the rate for 20-40 year olds is less than 0.1%, he said.

But at the same time, significant epidemics are occurring among other groups, including people in construction worker camps and restaurant workers, who also need to be vaccinated, he said.

“We have currently closed the camps and businesses, but the number of cases is not decreasing and the economy is bad. But if we focus on the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, we may not have to shut down businesses and the demands for beds from these two groups will also decrease, ”Kamnuan said.

Prayuth has targeted mid-October to open the country to vaccinated visitors from abroad without quarantine.

Sopon Mekthon, chairman of the government subcommittee on COVID-19 vaccine management, said only 2 million out of about 16 million elderly and infirm people had received vaccines.

Nakorn Premsri, director of the National Vaccine Institute, said a Thai company, Siam BioScience, was supposed to provide the country with 10 million doses per month of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine, but this was reduced to 5 to 6 million of doses. The company, owned by the King of Thailand, is said to have had production problems. It also has contracts to supply vaccines to other countries.

He said Thailand was trying to negotiate with other producers to fill the void. Thailand has so far only used vaccines from AstraZeneca and the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm, although the government says it has agreements to buy from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson as well.

Chalida Ekvittayavechnukul, The Associated Press


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