BANGKOK: The Wuhan virus, which has spread from China to other parts of the world, has triggered public concern in Thailand.
On Tuesday (Jan 28), Thailand's Public Health Ministry announced that 14 people have tested positive for the virus – the highest number of cases outside China.
“Five patients have already gone home. The remaining nine are still receiving treatment at hospitals. Their conditions are good. As of now, no local transmission has been reported in Thailand,” said Dr Tanarak Palipat, deputy director of the ministry's Disease Control Department.
So far, health officials have monitored 158 travellers from China for potential signs of the Wuhan virus. Twenty-nine of them were detected at airports while 129 others sought medical treatment at hospitals themselves.
“We continue to detect patients with symptoms that need monitoring every single day,” Dr Tanarak told reporters at a press conference in Bangkok.
All of the confirmed cases had travelled to Thailand from China.
The ministry said it has prepared for the "worst-case scenario" as the Wuhan virus continues to spread across China and the rest of the world.
Thailand may witness local transmission of the flu-like virus, Dr Tanarak said, adding that the spread could be limited at first but extend to other areas in the same province.
“Right now, our preparations are focused on that situation,” he said, noting at provinces at risk of local transmission would be those frequented by Chinese tourists.
“We’re aware of that risk. It may not be so high but not so low either. It’s possible we’ll begin to detect local transmission. So, we’ll make preparations for that in advance.”
The Thai government maintains that its healthcare system is prepared to tackle an outbreak. Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a national address on Monday that “we can control the situation 100 per cent”.
He also affirmed the readiness of the Thai medical system, citing the Global Health Security Index of 2019 where Thailand ranked sixth out of 195 countries.
“Infection of the new coronavirus is preventable,” Gen Prayut said. “Our screening and monitoring continues with intensity.”
Passengers travelling from China to Thai airports are required to go through temperature screening. According to Public Health Minister Anuthin Charnvirakul, the scans take place at the arrival gate and in the immigration area.
“Chances for infected passengers to go undetected are slim," he said.
"And even if they do, they will receive cards with an instruction advising them who to contact if they have a high body temperature.
"Tour companies and tour guides who take care of them will also be advised by the Tourism Ministry of procedures to follow in case their tour members show symptoms associated with the virus."
Since its detection in December last year, the Wuhan virus has killed more than 100 people in China and infected thousands. There have been confirmed cases in multiple countries, including Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and France.
READ: The global spread of the coronavirus: Where is it?
Singapore began imposing travel restrictions on Wednesday on holders of Chinese passports issued in Hubei province, where the virus was first reported.
The Philippine government has also stopped issuing visas on arrival to Chinese nationals.
Although Thailand has confirmed the highest number of infections outside China, it continues to welcome Chinese travellers, Dr Tanarak said.
“World Health Organization (WHO) often says limiting trade and travel is an unrecommended means of disease prevention. And up until today, the WHO has not recommended limiting trade and travel,” Dr Tanarak added.
Wuhan has been on lockdown since Jan 23. Prior to that, about 5 million people left the city ahead of the Chinese New Year holidays. While many travelled to other parts of China, some had travelled overseas, including to Bangkok.
Despite the threat of infection, many people in Bangkok have continued their daily routines, with some donning face masks to protect themselves.
“I wear a face mask every time I go outside,” said Pornthawan Chanchitsophon, a Bangkok resident with a young child.
“We try to avoid malls and crowded places, and even cancelled our trip to Pattaya during the Chinese New Year holidays.
"The city is popular among Chinese tourists and it’d be difficult to take care of ourselves.
"I’m quite worried because children have a weak immune system. So we have to take precautions by washing our hands and carrying a bottle of disinfectant spray all the time."
Another Bangkok resident Praweena Pinnil said she decided not to join a running event this weekend as the venue will be crowded.
“I don’t go to the cinema either although there are movies I’d like to watch. I’ll just watch Netflix instead,” she said.
“And on Saturday, when my family plans to go to a hospital, I’ll tell them to wear face masks, bring wet wipes and hand sanitiser.”
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