Anxiety related to endemic status
The government intends to declare Covid-19 an endemic disease in July in a bid to bring social and commercial activities in various sectors back to pre-Covid levels.
This decision is in line with that of many countries seeking to end a painful situation that their people have endured for more than two years.
Yet, as it takes steps to declare the virus an endemic disease, the government must be well prepared and, above all, not mislead the public.
The government has tried to allay public concerns over the pandemic by insisting that the overall situation in Thailand has improved, as evidenced by the drastic drop in the number of infected patients and deaths. He also maintains that the Omicron variant of the virus does not cause serious illness but only mild flu-like symptoms.
As for regulations, on June 1, entertainment venues such as pubs, bars and nightclubs reopened in 31 provinces, including Bangkok, with their opening hours and liquor service extended until midnight.
The Ministry of Public Health plans to further relax Covid-19 measures by allowing people to go without masks in designated areas from around mid-June.
The Department of Disease Control, for its part, has stopped reporting Covid-19 infections using rapid antigen test (ATK) kits and only reports cases requiring hospitalization.
All these measures seem to pave the way for the government to declare Covid-19 an endemic disease next month, despite the fact that only 40% of the population has received a booster shot.
According to the endemic criteria, new cases of infection should not exceed 10,000 cases per day while the mortality rate should not exceed 1:1,000 of the population; the hospitalization rate should also be less than 10%. All this, moreover, as part of an ongoing nationwide vaccination program.
Although it is acceptable to declare Covid-19 as an endemic disease if the country’s situation meets the above criteria, any misrepresentation of the situation by the government could lead to reckless actions among the public.
For example, the government must accept that the sharp decline in the number of new cases and deaths from Covid-19 was technical.
The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has changed its methodology to counting only deaths directly caused by the virus. Previously, it considered every patient who died with the virus as a Covid-19 death, including patients with pre-existing conditions. As a result, sharp declines in the kingdom’s death rate have been observed.
Unreporting ATK cases will also lead to a drastic drop in daily new cases, but will this mislead the public about the real situation?
In addition, the Rural Doctor Society last week criticized the Ministry of Public Health for changes in the way it allocates Covid-19 vaccines, with the government saying supply exceeds demand as there are fewer people who wish to be vaccinated. Unfortunately, some will think this means that vaccination is no longer necessary.
Instead of massaging the numbers, a more effective approach by the government before declaring Covid-19 endemic would be to focus on healthcare procedures that make it easier for people to access treatment and medicine.
The government must also address the discrimination experienced by some patients under different welfare systems.
It is understood that endemic status would ease pressure on the health system and the national budget, but this should not come at the expense of continued caution.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent the Bangkok Post’s thoughts on current issues and situations.
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