BANGKOK - Thailand on Thursday (April 29) reimposed a 14-day quarantine on visitors and banned dining in restaurants in Bangkok and five other provinces to battle a deadly Covid-19 wave now threatening the recovery of its vital tourism sector.
From May 1, all new arrivals must quarantine for two weeks regardless of their vaccination status. Earlier, it had been reduced to seven days for vaccinated visitors and 10 days for others.
Residents in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Chonburi, Chiang Mai, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan - the six most afflicted provinces - may not gather in groups of more than 20 and mask-wearing is mandatory nationwide.
Residents should also avoid travelling unless it is necessary, said the spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, in a press briefing on Thursday. "This is not a curfew. It is cooperation that we ask for."
Thailand has also widened its choice of vaccines under growing pressure from the private sector, which is eager to secure its own supply to speed up the inoculation process.
Asean's second largest economy on Thursday recorded 1,871 new infections and 10 new deaths. It was a decrease from over 2,000 cases logged daily for much of the past week. But 59 people have died since Sunday, taking the total to 188 so far, and the Thai authorities are scrambling to identify patients and isolate them in field hospitals set up nationwide.
The current outbreak has exposed flaws in Thailand's vaccination strategy. Under its original plan, the bulk of Thailand's inoculation would start only from June, when locally produced batches of vaccine licensed by AstraZeneca formula became available.
In the meantime, mostly front-line health workers have been vaccinated with smaller batches of imported AstraZeneca and Sinovac formulas. Over one million people have received their first dose and about 280,000 people are fully vaccinated.
The current outbreak threatens to delay plans to reopen key tourism hubs like Phuket.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is now fronting the Covid-19 strategy, having temporarily assumed sweeping powers. On Wednesday, he also met key leaders from the corporate sector seeking clearance to import vaccines for their own staff.
Hurdles preventing such direct vaccine purchases appear to have been removed in recent days.
Dr Boon Vanasin, chairman of Thonburi Healthcare Group, which runs 11 hospitals, told The Straits Times he expects to receive supplies of Moderna's vaccine within the coming week.
"We spent seven months talking to vaccine suppliers and producers but the process was stuck because they asked for a government guarantee and we could not provide it," he said, referring to the paperwork needed to import vaccines. "But in recent days, the prime minister allowed a more open vaccine policy, and that allowed us to confirm our orders."
Private organisations in Phuket also demanded on Thursday that the Thai government allow them "an express lane" to buy their own vaccines.
Vaccinated foreign tourists would be able to holiday on the island without quarantine from July 1 if at least 70 per cent of the island's residents were inoculated. But only a quarter of Phuket's residents have been vaccinated so far, Mr Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association told The Straits Times.