Thailand has imposed a nationwide ban on public gatherings and is considering more restrictions on movement as authorities reported record numbers of new coronavirus cases and deaths on Saturday, despite partial lockdowns in Bangkok and nine other provinces this week.
The country’s COVID-19 task force reported 10,082 new coronavirus cases and 141 new deaths, bringing the total number of infections to 391,989 cases and 3,240 fatalities since the pandemic started.
Last Thursday, authorities were quoted as saying that the Delta variant now makes up nearly 80 percent of the country’s caseload.
A ban on public gatherings has been imposed, with a maximum penalty of a two-year jail term or a fine of up to 40,000 Thai baht ($1,219.88) or both, an announcement on the official Royal Gazette published late on Friday showed.
On Saturday, Bangkok Post newspaper reported that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed the military and police to help officials of the capital city in the deployment of 200 teams that would carry out door-to-door testing for in the worst-hit parts of the city.
The move is aimed at “finding and isolating infected people to curb soaring transmissions”, The Post reported.
On Friday, Prayuth said that the government is considering more restrictions as the country battles its worst coronavirus outbreak yet, fuelled by the highly transmissible Alpha and Delta COVID-19 variants since early April.
“There is a need to expand measures to limit people’s movement as much as possible and closing more facilities leaving only the essentials,” Prayuth wrote on his official Facebook page.
Areas considered high risk in Thailand have been under the toughest restrictions in more than a year since Monday, with curbs on movement and gatherings, the closure of malls and some businesses and curfews between 9 pm to 4 am.
Prayuth himself has been in self-isolation for almost two weeks after coming into contact with a positive case during a visit to Phuket to launch a tourism programme for foreigners.
Despite the new lockdown and nationwide surge in COVID-19, three more Thai islands were opened to vaccinated foreign tourists in the country.
The islands – Samui, Tao and Phangan – welcomed visitors on Thursday as part of the kingdom’s push to revive its battered tourism industry.
Thailand launched its “sandbox” scheme on July 1, allowing vaccinated travellers to visit Phuket island. Tourists do not have to quarantine in a hotel but cannot leave Phuket for two weeks.
Prime Minister Prayuth went in self-isolation for almost two weeks after coming into contact with a positive case during a visit to Phuket to launch a tourism programme for foreigners [File: Thai Government Handout Photo via Reuters]
Under the new tourism plan expansion, visitors must stay at an approved hotel on Samui for a week and can leave their accommodation on day four.
They will have to produce a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed to venture to Tao or Phangan after their first week.
Since the island of Phuket opened, it has received at least 5,000 foreign tourists, 10 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.
Authorities are not expecting a big influx immediately to Samui and the other two islands.
Tourism Association of Koh Samui President Ratchaporn Poolsawadee described the “Samui Plus” scheme as a soft opening.
He said 75 percent of residents on the three islands were vaccinated.