Thailand has detected at least 24 cases of the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 that was first identified in Britain, a government health expert said on Wednesday. This is the first known domestic transmission of the highly contagious variant.
The SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.7 has been found in more than 100 countries and is blamed for fuelling new waves of infections in record numbers.
The United Kingdom (UK) variant was found in a cluster of 24 visitors to entertainment venues in Bangkok, which were detected at the weekend. Nearly 200 such venues have now been closed for two weeks.
“We did everything to block it, and it still gets through,” Yong Poovorawan, a government expert and virologist at Chulalongkorn University, told a health ministry briefing.
“This variant is very viral and can spread 1.7 times faster than the usual strain,” he said.
Thailand has seen infections jump in the past week, although numbers are still low compared to some of its regional neighbours.
It recorded 334 new infections on Wednesday, with no new deaths, bringing its case total to 29,905 and 95 fatalities.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed authorities to prepare field hospitals in anticipation of a spike in infections.
10 of his ministers and dozens of lawmakers were self-isolating on Wednesday due to exposure to positive cases.
Biggest Holiday Period
“We can handle things right now and I have instructed the preparation for field hospitals in Bangkok area,” Prayut said of the rise in cases.
“We could need these field hospitals in case the pandemic worsens,” he added.
Confirmation of the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant will be a setback for Thailand, which is just a week away from one of its biggest holiday periods.
The B.1.1.7 variant is as much as 70 percent more transmissible than existing variants, and far deadlier, according to British scientists.
Yong said he was puzzled at how community transmission had occurred, given Thailand’s strict border controls, quarantine and testing protocols, which in January had detected the variant in a family travelling from Britain, who were isolated.
Opas Karnkawinpong of the Department of Disease Control warned of thousands of new daily infections if restrictions are not followed during the holiday period.
Thailand is aiming to start its mass immunisation campaign in June but has been vaccinating health workers or people deemed vulnerable, with more than 300,000 recipients so far, according to the Health Ministry. – Reuters