Asia Today: Thailand counts more virus cases, limits travel

Thailand has reported 527 new coronavirus cases, most of them migrant workers who already were isolated, and the government said it was tightening movements of people around the country

Thailand has been struggling with a sudden virus surge after months of hardly any cases of domestic transmission. Field hospitals were being set up in parts of five provinces with many cases.

Large parts of the country, including the capital Bangkok, are under various lockdown restrictions, and the government said it will additionally restrict travel between virus-hit provinces to goods, cargo and necessary travel, and set up checkpoints on some roads.

Of the new cases confirmed Tuesday, 439 were migrants, 82 were local transmissions and six were in quarantined travelers, the Center of COVID-19 Situation Administration said. The total was a drop from the 745 registered Monday, the all-time high in Thailand, where the first case of the virus outside China was detected last January.

Most of the surge since last month has been in Samut Sakhon province, next to Bangkok, among migrant workers living in dormitories and employed in fish markets and factories. A field hospital next to the market is treating the infected migrants.

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Although it has canceled public activities and gatherings and shut schools, bars and other places where people gather, the government has not yet taken measures as strict as those that it imposed in March — when it successfully stamped out local transmission.

Malls and department stores remain open with social distancing required, and indoor dining at restaurants is allowed until 9 p.m.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha instead implored people to stay home.

“We don’t want to lock down the entire country because we know what the problems are, so can you all lock down yourselves?” he said. “This is up to everyone, if you don’t want to get infected just stay home for 14 to 15 days. If you think like this then things will be safe, easier for screening.”

The government also has been scrambling to try and acquire more vaccines after an initial period of complacency.

Prayuth said Monday that Thailand is seeking to secure 63 million doses, which wouldn’t cover half of its population of about 70 million. It has so far about 28 million doses on order for later in the year.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Qantas Airways has begun selling seats on international flights around the world from July 1 despite the Australian government banning most of its residents from leaving the country. Australia’s flagship airline said on Tuesday it was selling fares on the expectation that international travel “will begin to restart from July” and would continue to review its schedule in response to the virus situation. Since March, Australia has prevented most of its citizens and residents from leaving so that they won’t bring coronavirus home. Australian Transport Minister Michael McCormack said international borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians. “Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government,” McCormack said in a statement. “Operations and ticket sales on particular routes are commercial decisions for airlines.”

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— China has designated parts of Hebei province near Beijing as a coronavirus high danger zone after 14 new cases of COVID-19 were found. Eleven of those cases were in Shijiazhuang city. Parts of the city will undergo stricter testing and isolation measures, and areas of another Hebei city with new cases were registered as medium risk areas. Medical investigators were looking into whether a single event such as a family gathering had been the origin of many of the cases. Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging migrant workers to stay put during the Lunar New Year holiday. Classes are being dismissed early and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays.


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