Over 9,000: Thailand doesn’t break sweat despite COVID bump, eyes travel bubbles

Health care workers administer vaccines last month at Bangkok’s Bang Sue Grand Station. Photo: Coconuts
Health care workers administer vaccines last month at Bangkok’s Bang Sue Grand Station. Photo: Coconuts

The COVID-meter surged back up to its highest point of the year with nearly 9,200 cases confirmed today as the nation looks to expand travel links.

While the official numbers are likely vastly undercounted, they slid to 10-day low on Tuesday of 7,422 before spiking to 8,587 the next day and 9,172 today. Still, the most relevant data point – hospital utilization – remains little changed since mid-January after exploding with the new year as the Omicron variant spread.

It hasn’t been enough to pause discussions underway today about establishing travel bubbles with several neighboring countries following Tuesday’s reopening of the so-called Test & Go scheme for vaccinated travel. 

Phipaht Ratchakitprakarn, tourism ministry spokesperson, said Thailand was talking to countries such as Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia about opening travel bubbles. 

What is a travel bubble? A new metaphor to replace all the worn-out sandboxes?

Also called corona corridors, sand boxes are arrangements between two or more locales to permit two-way travel so long as certain public health thresholds are met, including restarting commercial air travel.

At today’s COVID task force meeting, the one-day surge was blamed on three sources – schools, markets, and religious ceremonies.

“This is a slight uptick, and the task force right now is paying close attention to the three particular types of clusters,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maratee Nalita Andamo said.

Just more than 84,413 patients were in hospital care as of today. Another 21 deaths were reported.

The ministry will also visit Beijing for the Winter Olympics in order to draw agreements with China’s ministry of culture.

More than 23,000 travelers have reportedly signed up for Test & Go since it resumed Tuesday after its extended suspension last month due to rise of the Omicron variant.

The program allows fully vaccinated travelers who pass COVID tests to enter the country, though they must take two additional RT-PCR tests – one on the first day and another on the fifth. They must spend their first night in a certified hotel to await their results.

As of Wednesday, 795,000 travelers had received a Thailand Pass to travel since the program began in November. Of those, nearly 530,000 registered via Test & Go, while the remaining 264,000 entered via “sandbox” areas or hotel quarantine.

During the same period, from November 2019 to January 2020, 11.1 million travelers arrived in Bangkok, which was then the world’s most-visited city.

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