Thailand Rushes to Inoculate People in Deep South amid Infection Spike

Mariyam Ahmad
Pattani, Thailand
Thailand Rushes to Inoculate People in Deep South amid Infection Spike Workers from the Hilal Ahmar Foundation in Saba Yoi, a district in Songkhla province, carry the coffin of a COVID-19 victim for burial in a cemetery in Songkhla, Thailand, Oct. 13, 2021.

Public health staff are scrambling to vaccinate residents of Thailand’s troubled Deep South, officials said Wednesday, adding that COVID-19 infections were climbing in provinces across the border region because people have become lax in following health protocols.

Ramping up vaccinations this week is a priority to contain the rise in infections, said Dr. Anurak Sarapap, a public health service officer in southern Pattani province.

“The short-term plan is to vaccinate 50 percent of the population within this week,” Anurak said during a radio broadcast on Wednesday.

“When there is a big spread in any area, we use antigen test kits to find the infected persons – those found negative, we will immediately vaccinate and those testing positive will be placed in community isolation. We have enough vaccines,” he said.

Accounting for a fifth of the nation’s new infections this week, the region’s four provinces have seen only about one-third of their 3.58 million people be fully vaccinated. About 42 percent of the region’s residents, or 1.5 million people, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Nationwide, about 33 percent are fully vaccinated, according to information from Our World in Data.

Thailand kicked off a long-awaited national campaign to inoculate the general population against COVID-19 on June 6 amid a soaring wave of infections that began in April at Bangkok’s nightlife venues.

While new cases have fallen in recent weeks in much of the country, an average of a little more than 10,000 infections are being reported each day.

Infections have risen in the Deep South because of lower vaccine penetration and because people neglected pandemic precautions such as avoiding large crowds and wearing masks after the strict lockdown was eased, said Dr. Udomkiat Poonsawat, director of Pattani province’s Khok Pho Hospital.

“From interviews, the spike happened domestically through funerals, festivities, after a relaxation of [lockdown] measures in September,” he said. “The poor people live in large numbers in the same household, making that itself a cluster.”

Udomkiat warned that the daily infections could reach 1,000 a day in Pattani province, which could strain hospital capacity, adding people need to strictly follow pandemic protocols and a lockdown must be imposed, at least in some areas.

Regional infections

The daily COVID-19 caseload in the Deep South peaked at 2,332 infections on Sunday, accounting for 21.55 percent of the country’s 10,817 cases, according to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

On Wednesday, daily infections in the region dropped to 1,968 despite all four provinces ranking among the top ten in terms of cases.

Thailand's southern border region along the Malaysian frontier encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces, and four districts of Songkhla province, and is home to a decades-old separatist insurgency waged by rebels from the area's Malay-Muslim majority. The infection numbers include cases in all Songkhla’s districts.

The provinces logged a total of 124,368 infections since the third spike began in April while Thailand reported 1.71 million cases during the same period.

When the Deep South caseload started rising last week, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha directed public health ministry officials to focus on the region, according to the government spokesman.

About 1 million anti-viral drug Favipiravir tablets, 20,000 rapid test kits, 100 ventilators and 25,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines were shipped to the Deep South, said Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, the government spokesman.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he plans to visit the region to see for himself the severity of the situation. He said another 500,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines were shipped to the region on Monday.

In Songkhla, a hospital director said COVID-19 infections could rise in the province in the next two weeks, leaving hospitals with potential shortages.

“We aim to add 4,000 beds,” said Dr. Chaiyasith Thepchatree, director of Hatyai Hospital. “At the moment we are coordinating with the local administration to set up a pre-admission center and field hospitals.”

Meanwhile, Thailand is set to lift COVID-19 quarantines for fully vaccinated travelers from at least 10 countries starting Nov. 1.


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