Restrictions can be lifted, but very gradually, experts say
Experts suggest that restrictions can be eased in some areas, provided it is not done all at once and everywhere.
Owing to the drop in new confirmed Covid-19 cases, an informed source said that after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha chaired a meeting with the government’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Monday (April 13), the authorities signalled a chance of easing restrictions on businesses that have been forced to close. There were only 28 new cases on that day.
The governor of Nonthaburi province made the first move in easing restrictions, but reversed his position soon after he was hit by criticism.
Also, on Tuesday, the number of cases rose to 34 and CCSA spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin warned that the country should not let its guard down. He said the early easing of restrictions could lead to a spike in cases, citing Singapore and Japan, where infections rose sharply after being flat for a while.
A report on national security suggests that restrictions should be lifted very gradually, adding that only some provinces or some areas should reopen first. For instance, provincial governors may consider reopening hairdressing and beauty salons first provided the number of customers is kept limited and hand gel or steriliser is made available. Clients will also be required to wear face masks.
Dr Amorn Leelarasamee, president of the Medical Association of Thailand, said he agrees that some restrictions should be lifted to support businesses, but it should be done slowly, carefully and hand in hand with seven-day assessments of new cases. For instance, if new cases are in single digits, then shops or businesses can be reopened provided no more than 10 people are served at a time.
He also said that social distancing should continue being practised. Large department stores may have fewer risks, compared to small air-conditioned shops, the doctor said. Also, entertainment venues that are usually packed with customers, such as pubs and restaurants, should be the last to be reopened, he suggested.
Amorn also said the number of customers allowed to enter shops should be increased gradually, such as 10 initially, then 50 and then 100 based on the rate of new cases. He also warned that there is a high chance of a spike in new cases once the flight ban ends on April 18. Therefore, it is necessary that all foreign or Thai arrivals be put under quarantine for 14 days.
In the future, foreign tourists wanting to visit Thailand will have to apply a month ahead and must agree to a 14-day quarantine upon entering the country. He said this move may help the private sector arrange quarantine sites for visitors.
Meanwhile, Dr Chaiwat Techapaitoon, leader of a group supporting medical doctors fighting Covid-19, voiced concerns about the country running out of Favipiravir – the drug that is being used to treat the virus. Doctors are using this drug to treat critical patients or those whose lungs have been invaded by the virus.
He said if this drug was more well supplied, doctors can prescribe it to patients with mild symptoms, so fewer people end up in intensive care. However, he said, many countries are competing to buy this drug, which is leading to an increase in price and short supply.
He said the government should consider importing chemicals to produce the drug locally.