New local coronavirus cases keep Thailand on edge

(Updates with 4 new cases)

Bangkok, Sep 11 (efe/epa).- An Uzbek footballer playing for Buriram United Football Club in Thailand has tested positive for coronavirus on the eve of the start of the Thai soccer season, officials said on Friday.

The player, who has not been identified, was diagnosed during testing for 1,115 people on the eve of the start of the season on Saturday, the health ministry told a press conference.

The 29-year-old had arrived in the country on 13 August and went into quarantine at a hotel in Bangkok for 14 days, but tested positive on Thursday.

The center for disease control added that in the past two weeks three cases in Japan were from people who had travelled from Thailand, although no further infections have been detected after contract tracing, according to local media.

The new infections are unrelated to the case of a DJ who worked at various nightclubs, in what had been the only local COVID-19 infection detected in the country in the last three months.

The authorities, who have already conducted 570 tests, are looking for possible infections among the more than 1,000 people who came into contact with the DJ, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sep. 3 at the prison where he had been admitted for a drug offense.

The infection was discovered the day after Thailand celebrated 100 days without detecting any local transmission of the virus, which has so far caused more than 3,400 infections in the country, including 58 deaths.

The 37-year-old DJ, who has not traveled overseas since the start of the pandemic and whose identity has not been made public, is being treated at a prison hospital in Bangkok.

The 570 negative tests conducted so far include five people, who lived with the DJ, and 34 prisoners who were in contact with him after he was imprisoned on Aug. 26, according to official data.

The authorities have also installed portable test booths near three bars where the patient worked, including one in the popular Khao San Road in Bangkok.

Nightclubs are high-risk sites for COVID-19 outbreaks. In March, dozens of cases were detected in Bangkok’s Thonglor district, which is full of bars and restaurants.

Thailand, with a population of nearly 70 million, was the first country to detect a case of the novel coronavirus outside China – believed to be the source of the pandemic – in January.

Despite its proximity to the Asian giant and being the preferred tourist destination of the Chinese, Thailand has so far escaped a major spike in infections that other countries such as India, Spain and the United States have experienced and even the high number of cases recorded in closer countries including Indonesia, which has 207,000 cases, and the Philippines, with 249,000.

The key to this success remains a mystery although Thailand has the experience of other epidemics such as SARS, another type of coronavirus, and bird flu, as well as widespread use of masks and the habit of not touching each other while greeting.

The director of the Department of Disease Control, Dr. Sophon Iamsirithawon, attributes the low incidence of the virus to “collaboration, and public awareness” including support from Village Health Volunteer, an organization with more than a million members that is dedicated to tracking cases in rural areas.

“I would say that Thailand experiences a very low or insignificant level of infections within the country, rather than saying that Thailand has no new cases at all,” Sophon told EFE last week, adding that 80 percent of positive cases are asymptomatic and may not have been detected by local authorities.

The Thai government ordered strict containment measures in March that included restrictions on movement, a night-time curfew, the mandatory use of masks in places such as supermarkets and public transport, and the closure of borders, although it did not decree a strict lockdown.

These measures have badly affected the Thai economy, which entered recession with the gross domestic product shrinking by 12.2 percent in the second quarter of the year and 2 percent in the first quarter.

The Bank of Thailand has forecast that the country’s economy will contract by 8.1 percent this year. EFE-EPA

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