Thailand fears “tens of thousands” of new COVID-19 cases, weighs curbs

BANGKOK, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Thailand is considering measures such as limiting large gatherings and banning alcohol sales in restaurants to discourage customers to avert a wave of coronavirus infections, a health official said on Wednesday.

The country reported 3,899 cases on Wednesday, up from an average of 2,600 daily cases towards the end of last year, and the Omicron variant itself has tripled from last month’s holiday period, government data showed.

If measures like wearing masks and regular testing were not followed, infections could reach the “tens of thousands in the next two weeks,” Sumanee Watcharasin, a spokeswoman for the country’s coronavirus taskforce, said.

She said the government will decide on new curbs on Friday and also review the suspended “Test & Go” scheme that allowed vaccinated arrivals to skip quarantine.

Since the pandemic began, Thailand has had a total of 2.2 million infections and nearly 22,000 coronavirus-related fatalities. Residents were concerned about further disruptions to life.

“I’m so worried with the situation, but I’m being very cautious,” said Kundarat Yutakom, a 60-year-old shopkeeper in Bangkok who opened her shop after a seven-month interval on Wednesday.

Others feared a repeat of last year when cases surged, straining hospitals leaving many untreated.

“We really need to be prepared so we don’t have a repeat of events of July and August when people were dying on the streets,” said Chris Potranandana, head of the Zendai Foundation that helped people get medical help during last year’s peak.

Thailand has vaccinated about 64.1% of an estimated 72 million people living in the country with two doses, but only 9.7% have received booster shots.

Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Jiraporn Kuhakan and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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