Thailand expands lockdown areas as COVID-19 cases surge

Reuters

Posted at Jul 18 2021 11:43 AM | Updated as of Jul 18 2021 11:06 PM

Thailand expands lockdown areas as COVID-19 cases surge 1
People queue for free coronavirus disease (COVID-19) rapid antigen tests at a mass testing station, as the spread of COVID-19 continues, in Bangkok, Thailand, July 15, 2021. Chalinee Thirasupa, Reuters

BANGKOK (UPDATE) - The Thai government on Sunday announced plans for a tighter lockdown in Bangkok and high-risk provinces next week, suspending most domestic flights and expanding curfew areas after the country reported a third straight day of record COVID-19 case numbers.

Thailand reported 11,397 infections and 101 deaths on Sunday, bringing the cumulative total to 403,386 cases and 3,341 fatalities, the vast majority from an outbreak since early April that is being fuelled by the highly transmissible Alpha and Delta COVID-19 variants.

Domestic flights to and from Bangkok and other provinces classified by the Thai government as at high risk from COVID-19 will be suspended from Wednesday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) said in an announcement.

Exceptions are being made for medical flights, emergency landing aircraft and flights in connection with the government's tourism reopening programs, while other local flights can only fly at 50% capacity, the announcement said.

Tougher measures designed to keep people in high risk areas mostly at home will be introduced from Tuesday, said General Nattapon Nakpanich, the chief of National Security Council, but supermarkets, banks, hospitals and medical clinics will still be allowed to open.

Shopping malls will be closed and a 9 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew will be imposed from Tuesday onwards in Chonburi, Ayutthaya and Chachoengsao provinces, an announcement on the official Royal Gazette on Sunday showed.

Bangkok and nine other provinces have already been under these restrictions, the toughest in more than a year, since last Monday, as the country battles its longest-running and most severe outbreak so far.

Thai health authorities said they were stepping up efforts to secure more vaccines to fight the latest outbreak, with a deal for 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccines to be concluded on Monday and an order for 50 million more doses under consideration, said the director-general of the Department of Disease Control Opas Karnkawinpong.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul also plans to seek approval from the country's COVID-19 task force to temporarily regulate the export amount of locally manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines as a way to shore up COVID-19 vaccine supplies, but he gave no details about quotas, several local media reported.

Thailand has been producing the AstraZeneca vaccine since June and is slated to export it to several other countries in Southeast Asia as well as Taiwan.

When the idea was earlier raised by the government, AstraZeneca said the Thai production facility "is of critical importance" to the region and the company is working with the Thai and other governments to "continue to deliver equitable vaccine access to the region."

Thailand's vaccine rollout, which has depended on the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, began in June. So far about 5% of the 66 million population have been doubly vaccinated. 

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kim Coghill, Edmund Klamann and Hugh Lawson)

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