Thailand Reports First COVID-19 Death, as US Postpones ASEAN Summit in Vegas

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
200301-TH-covid-1000.jpg Amid fears over the spread of the novel coronavirus, Thai health officials check the body temperature of policemen before an anti-government rally in Bangkok, March 1, 2020.

As novel coronavirus cases proliferate worldwide outside China, the Trump administration has postponed a U.S. summit with Southeast Asian leaders in Las Vegas, while Thailand has announced its first death from the mystery disease.

A 35-year-old man who worked as a subcontractor for Thai duty-free giant King Power, died after being diagnosed in late January with both the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and dengue fever, Thai health officials said on Sunday.

The man came into contact with Chinese customers while serving them at a duty-free outlet in Samut Prakarn province south of Bangkok, the director-general of the Department of Disease Control said.

“[T]he deceased [person] had close contact with Chinese tourists who are in the risk group,” Dr. Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told a news conference Sunday. “[The patient] died after a month of treatment with weak lungs, exhausted heart and multiple-organ failure.”

The Thai citizen’s death came a day after the United States announced its first fatality from COVID on U.S. soil. Amid sharply escalated international concerns over the outbreak of the virus first detected in China’s Hubei province, the White House indefinitely postponed a meeting between President Donald Trump and leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that was to take place in Nevada in mid-March, U.S. officials said.

“Due to challenges facing the international community from the outbreak of COVID-19, the White House has postponed the meeting planned for March 14 in Las Vegas, so governments can remain focused on protecting the health and safety of their people,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement sent to BenarNews on Sunday.

The governments of the United States, Thailand and other ASEAN member-states “had been making great preparations for the meeting” after President Trump, in November 2019, invited leaders from the Southeast Asian bloc to a special summit with the United States in Las Vegas, according to the official.

“We look forward to future discussions with ASEAN leaders that advance the U.S.-ASEAN strategic partnership and highlight the centrality of ASEAN in our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the department spokesperson said.

“ASEAN is at the heart of our free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy, and the United States reaffirms our enduring partnership, commitment to shared principles, and our deep economic and security cooperation,” the official added.

In Washington, a senior administration official also confirmed on Sunday that the summit was postponed.

“As the international community works together to defeat the novel coronavirus, the United States, in consultation with ASEAN partners, has made the difficult decision to postpone the ASEAN leaders meeting previously scheduled for mid-March,” the official said.

“The United States values our relationships with the nations of this critical region, and looks forward to future meetings.”

More than 85,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed and at least 2,900 deaths recorded in at least 53 countries, with the vast majority concentrated in China, according to the latest information from the World Health Organization. But the number of cases and deaths connected to COVID-19 outside China have surged in three countries – Iran, Italy, and South Korea.

Including the case of the man who died on Sunday, Thailand has recorded 42 cases of COVID-19. The man had tested positive for the virus at a private hospital after being diagnosed with dengue fever in late January, officials said. He was transferred to the government-run Bumrasnaradura Disease Control Institute, near Bangkok, where he died.

His was only the second death from the virus recorded so far in Southeast Asia. In early February, the Philippines announced the region’s first death from the disease.

Southeast Asia’s most populous nation, Indonesia, so far has not confirmed any cases although its immediate neighbors have detected multiple cases on their territory, and other countries have reported infections from people who had recently traveled to Indonesia.

On Sunday, next-door neighbor Malaysia announced four new cases of COVID-19, bringing the nationwide total to 29.

The new cases included a 52-year-old Malaysian man who had traveled to Shanghai in mid-January; a 45-year-old Malaysian man who had visited Milan, Italy last month; and a 20-year-old citizen, a male trainee nurse who had close contact in a hospital with another person infected with the virus, but who had worn no protective gear, the Malaysian health ministry said.

BenarNews staff in Washington and Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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