Thai Prime Minister reassures public after most severe COVID-19 wave

·2 min read
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bangkok

BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand broke another record for coronavirus cases on Friday as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha promised sufficient beds and medicine and highlighted a plan to stimulate the economy and vaccinate 50 million Thais by year's end.

In a televised address, Prayuth announced no new curbs, in contrast to the strict shutdown a year ago when daily cases were a fraction of the current number, but he warned that authorities could quickly tighten measures if cases kept rising.

Thailand reported 2,070 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest daily number since the pandemic started.

More than 28,000 beds and sufficient medicine are available to battle the current wave, Prayuth said.

He promised additional vaccines, including 5 million to 10 million Pfizer Inc doses, 5 million to 10 million of Russia's Sputnik V, and 500,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech's vaccine donated by China.

This is on top of existing orders of 61 million doses of AstraZeneca's and 2.5 million doses of Sinovac vaccines.

The government has allocated 380 billion baht ($12.16 billion) budget to stimulate the economy, Prayuth said.

"The government and I will do everything possible to ensure that we all will persevere through this crisis."

Thai health authorities are adding more intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Bangkok as health officials warned that the Thai capital only had enough for one more week at the current daily rate of cases.

Thailand admits into care anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, even those without symptoms.

Thailand has managed to keep its case load far lower than many countries, but the new outbreak, which includes the highly-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, has caused more than 20,000 domestic infections with 27 fatalities in just 23 days.

Schools and bars have been closed until next month and alcohol sales banned in restaurants in a bid to curb the epidemic.

The outbreak, which accounts for more than a third of Thailand's 50,183 cases so far, comes as the country takes tentative steps to reopen to tourists after a year of tightened border controls.

Thailand has recorded 121 deaths due to the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Orathai Sriring and Panu Wongcha-umEditing by Ed Davies and Richard Chang)