Health minister says Thailand is at risk of a widespread outbreak

A medical officer scanning visitors at the Thai-Malaysian border. (Bernama pic)

BANGKOK: Thailand confirmed three more novel coronavirus cases, taking the country’s total to 40, and said it will step up efforts to contain the disease.

The new cases are in one family and include two people who returned from Hokkaido in Japan and are thought to have contracted the illness there, Permanent Health Secretary Sukhum Karnchanapimai said in a briefing.

One of them didn’t report symptoms until three days after they developed and the infection spread to another family member, an elementary school student, Sukhum said Wednesday.

He added there’s no widespread community transmission of the virus in Thailand yet.

Officials are checking on 50 to 100 people, including those from the school, who may have been in contact with the three new cases. The student’s classmates have been told to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Thailand’s Thanachart Bank Pcl said in a statement one of its branches was closed for thorough cleaning after reports that an employee’s family had contracted the virus. The lender didn’t say if the family is the one behind the three new cases.

The outbreak of the disease known as Covid-19 has hurt Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy and pummeled both its stock market and currency.

The SET index tumbled as much as 4.1% Wednesday to its lowest intraday level in more than three years, amid a global rout this week sparked by the spread of the illness outside of epicentre China.

The baht’s drop of about 6% against the dollar this year is the worst in a basket of Asian currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said at the briefing Wednesday that Covid-19 has been classified as a dangerous communicable disease.

Mandatory reporting

Under the change, anybody with suspect symptoms after visiting a high-risk country must report to the authorities within three hours. Visitors who lie about symptoms or travel history could be deported.

Anutin said Thailand isn’t at the stage yet of banning incoming flights from affected countries, but added that “we’re going to fight with all the tools that we have.”

In Facebook posts, Anutin wrote that Thailand is at risk of a widespread outbreak, adding the situation “isn’t good.”

“Those who are planning to travel abroad in this period, if it’s possible to avoid that, please avoid it,” Anutin wrote. “We are entering a full war with Covid-19.”

Returning travellers must report where they went to disease control officers stationed at airports, he said on Facebook, adding people shouldn’t conceal symptoms as that could cause the virus to spread.