BANGKOK: Thailand on Sunday (Apr 11) reported 967 new COVID-19 cases, its biggest daily jump, but no new deaths as the country deals with a third wave of infections and a highly contagious variant.
Of the infections, 964 were domestic transmissions, including 236 in the capital Bangkok, the epicentre of an outbreak that has spread to most of Thailand's 77 provinces.
The spike comes ahead of major national Songkran holidays, known for big street water fights that authorities have now banned for a second year due to the pandemic.
Authorities have urged people to avoid unnecessary travel and reduce gatherings to help limit the outbreak, which includes the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain.
"Right now, the situation is worrying. But we can manage it if everyone helps," senior health official Sopon Iamsirithaworn, deputy director general of the Department of Disease Control, told a briefing.
If the number of cases is still rising in two weeks, measures beyond the current restrictions on nightlife and longstanding social distancing rules will need to be put in place, he said.
At least 38 provinces have required visitors from risk areas to undertake a 14-day quarantine. Nightspots such as pubs and karaoke bars in Bangkok and 40 provinces will be closed until Apr 23.
The managers of two entertainment venues in Bangkok, where many infections were reported, had been sentenced to two months in jail for COVID-19 violations, police said on Sunday.
The outbreak has become a political issue because of charges that senior members of government may have patronised the clubs and flouted health regulations. The country's transport minister tested positive for the virus, but he and other Cabinet members have denied the allegations.
Dr Sophon explained that another reason the situation is “worrisome” is because the age groups among which most cases are found are in the 20-29 and 30-39 age brackets.
“These groups have active lifestyles, therefore they can spread the virus to larger numbers of people,” Dr Sophon said. He noted also that they are relatively young and strong, tending to show little or no symptoms, thus masking their illness.
The rapid rise in cases has been most marked in the capital, Bangkok, and the tourist destinations of Chiangmai in the north and Chonburi province in the east, home to the seaside resort town of Pattaya.
Despite the risk, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha did not issue any ban on inter-provincial travel when he announced measures last week to combat the spread of the virus.
Chiang Mai provincial health officials are requiring visitors from Bangkok and four surrounding provinces to self-quarantine for the duration of their stay, up to 14 days, the state Thai News agency reported. A 280-bed field hospital has been set up to treat COVID-19 patients.
Thailand has reported 3,661 domestic infections so far this month, including 1,294 cases in Bangkok, the highest amid the new outbreak. That brings the total to 32,625, with 97 deaths.