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Thailand faces a surge ahead of New Year trips




Such daily increases in new infections are rare for Thailand, which has overcome the coronavirus pandemic much better than many nations through measures including tight border controls that have destroyed the country’s lucrative tourism industry. Thailand has also occasionally experimented with everything from curfew and alcohol bans to closing schools, shopping malls and restaurants.

Both travelers and businesses hoped that these years Songkran’s vacation could move forward without any increase in infections. The official holiday was canceled last year to slow the spread of the disease as it came as the country was experiencing its first major outbreak.

The national government has so far refused to issue blanket travel restrictions this year, although provincial authorities are allowed to impose quarantine rules on people coming from high-risk areas like Bangkok. Some provinces have done so, calling into question travel plans for many.

The current blast is the largest the country has seen since one in December which was centered around a fresh food market employing a number of migrant workers from Myanmar. This time, however, the blast has been traced to a number of bars and nightclubs in the heart of Bangkok, including many famous for the rich and powerful. Cases are now on the rise in at least 20 provinces, with authorities saying some of those infected have a more contagious variant of the virus first discovered in Britain.

The spread which has infected at least one Cabinet minister and forced a number of others into self-quarantine is increasing criticism of the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ochas and its treatment of the pandemic. While Thailand has recorded only 30,869 infections and 96 deaths since the pandemic began, critics say the government has not done enough regarding vaccinations or support for people whose livelihoods have been cut off by the pandemic.

Thailand has vaccinated less than 1% of its 69 million people and has a relatively small supply of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines available. While there have been several high-profile vaccination events, including the latest vocalizations for workers in now-closed entertainment venues in areas affected by the recent outbreak, there is still no clear timeline when the general public will be able to get a vaccine.

The government response to the recent blast so far has focused on shutting down nightlife facilities. Bangkok city officials earlier this week ordered the closure of all night spots in three affected neighborhoods. The country’s central authority managing the coronavirus situation expanded it Friday to bars, nightclubs and karaoke salons in 41 provinces.

Authorities in Bangkok have set up mass testing sites in some of the affected neighborhoods, attracting large crowds of people who often have to wait in line for hours. Efforts to find potential infections have been complicated now that a number of hospitals in Bangkok have said they are suspending COVID-19 testing due to deficiencies in the chemicals needed to process the tests.

The government has ordered preparations to set up field hospitals to accommodate any increase in patients and said vacant rooms in Bangkok hotels could also be converted to accommodate infected people if numbers continue to rise.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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