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Fears Songkran Could Fuel a Surge in Covid-19 Cases and Deaths

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As the Songkran Thai New Year gets underway, Thailand is urging its elderly citizens and other vulnerable groups to get vaccinated.

Thailand registered 23,015 more Omicron Covid-19 cases and 106 fatalities during the previous 24 hours, the Public Health Ministry announced on Wednesday.

It is believed that this may lead to an increase in Covid cases and deaths, derailing a tentative economic and tourism recovery.

This week, millions of Thais will travel from cities such as Bangkok to their homes to celebrate Songkran with their families. The first time they have been able to travel without restrictions since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020.

As a result, the Health Ministry warns that cases of Covid-19 Omicron cases may jump to 100,000 a day from nearly 20,000 on Tuesday.

Elderly Need Booster Shots

In the past three weeks, an estimated 500,000 elderly have been vaccinated as part of a booster-dose campaign, bringing the total number of those over 60 who have had three shots to three million.

However, there is a long way to go as the Southeast Asian nation has an estimated 11 million senior citizens, according to health ministry data.

As only about 35 percent of the 70 million Thais receive booster shots, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged people to adhere to Covid-19 protocols in order to prevent a spike after the long holidays.

The tourism-dependent nation’s efforts to further relax visa rules for foreign visitors hinge on this.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said last week that many parties and meetings are expected during Songkran. “Vaccines can help reduce the risk, but we are asking the people to cooperate so we can move past this risky period.”

A resurgence of infections could in turn bring back more restrictions and scuttle an already fragile economic recovery.

New infections following Songkran

Thailand’s growth forecast has been trimmed by most economists in recent weeks, as they predict a second straight year of current account deficits. It looks like tourist arrivals will not recover anytime soon.

According to Kasikornbank’s research unit, economist Nattaporn Triratanasirikul is concerned about the spike in new infections following Songkran.

The more cases there are, the longer it will take for the outbreak to stabilize and the longer it will take to declare the outbreak endemic. But the impact will be less than when we faced forced lockdowns in the past.”

Dr. Chakkarat Pittayawonganon, director of the Bureau of Epidemiology, says that even if new cases flare-up, the healthcare system can still handle the situation as the high vaccination rate prevents severe infections and hospitalization. May is expected to be a stabilizing month for cases.

Mr. Prayut’s government is seeking a balance between public health and the economy by slowly ending most of the mobility restrictions it has been following since October last year.

By July, if new infections and fatalities are kept below 80 per day, the outbreak will be declared endemic.

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