Single local coronavirus case keeps Thailand on edge

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Sep 11 (efe-epa).- Thailand is trying to solve the mystery of the only local COVID-19 infection detected in the country in the last three months, a DJ who worked at various nightclubs, without having discovered any related cases a week later despite the highly contagious nature of the virus.

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.

This isolated local case 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 few daily infections that are being detected in the country are imported and affect quarantined travelers.

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 even as many wonder why there are no more cases linked to him.

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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