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Coronavirus

Thailand braces for COVID-19 spike after Songkran holiday

Field hospitals established near Bangkok and other population centers

A woman is administered Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine after hundreds of residents of Bangkok's Watthana district tested positive on April 7.    © Reuters

BANGKOK-Thailand expects a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases owing to the increase in domestic travel during Songkran, the four-day Thai lunar new year that began on April 12.

At least 3,000 extra beds have been prepared in ten new field hospitals in the environs of Bangkok. More will be set up around other major population centers, including Chiang Mai, Chonburi and Hua Hin.

"We are also looking for more beds in hotels and previous state quarantine facilities to be used if needed," said Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesperson for the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, the central government's body in charge of COVID-related policy.

Thailand normally celebrates Songkran over a three-day period from April 13, but this year added April 12 to extend the break and stimulate domestic tourism. 

However, an increase early this month in confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to nightlife spots in central Bangkok has blighted the holiday. The capital has become riskier, and a more easily transmitted strain has been detected.

On April 10, Thailand reported 789 new infections, the highest single-day spike since Jan. 27, when there were 819. The case count continues to rise, with 967 new patients on April 11 and 985 on April 12. Thailand has so far confirmed 33,610 cases and 97 deaths.

The authorities have reinstated restrictions in some places, and ordered the temporary closure of pubs, bars and nightclubs in 41 provinces. Provincial governors have the authority to impose stricter measures as they see fit.

Many Thais like to celebrate Songkran by splashing water over each other, and such close interaction could accelerate transmission. People traveling around the country more also pose risks.

"This year's outbreak is 10 times worse than last year's, but the measures are less strict this time," Yong Poovorawan, a virologist at Chulalongkorn University, told Nikkei Asia. "It means the situation now is 100 times more serious than last year."

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