Thailand extends state of emergency as Covid-19 cases, deaths surge

Thailand is battling the third wave of outbreak that has quadrupled the nation's case count in just seven weeks. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Thailand will extend a nationwide state of emergency to tackle the coronavirus pandemic for another two months as the deadliest phase of the outbreak to hit the nation so far shows no signs of easing.

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, headed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on Friday (May 21) approved the extension of the emergency through the end of July, according to spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin.

The decree, which allows the government to streamline disease-control plans without multiple approvals from various agencies, has been in place since March last year.

Thailand is battling the third wave of outbreak that has quadrupled the nation's case count in just seven weeks, with deaths jumping sevenfold. The wave of infections, which started in Bangkok's night entertainment venues in early April, has now spread to crowded communities, construction camps and prisons, with dozens of clusters in the capital.

A more infectious Covid variant first identified in India was detected among 15 workers at a construction camp in northern Bangkok, the first local discovery of the variant, Mr Taweesilp said at a briefing on Friday. The health ministry was scheduled to hold a briefing on the cluster later in the day.

Those infections were among 3,481 new cases and 32 new deaths announced on Friday, bringing the total to 123,066 cases and 735 fatalities overall.

Thailand has administered 2.5 million shots and its pace of vaccinations has been slow due to limited supply of jabs. The nation of almost 70 million people has so far focused on health-care and front-line workers, and residents in regions that have an ongoing outbreak, or are preparing to reopen for vaccinated tourists this year. But the government has added workers to a priority list to restart the economy.

The government will begin the mass national rollout of vaccines from June 7 when foreigners will also be able to register for shots at designated centres, according to officials. Bangkok, the epicentre of the current outbreak, aims to inoculate 70 per cent of its residents by July, they said.

Thailand has slashed its growth outlook for this year, citing the delay in reopening borders to foreign tourists and slow pace of vaccination. The National Economic and Social Development Council said this week that the economy may expand between 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent this year, less than the 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent forecast in February.

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