Thailand reported 31 coronavirus deaths on Monday, a new daily record tied to a third wave detected first in bars and nightclubs in Bangkok, as authorities struggle to contain its most serious outbreak since the pandemic hit more than a year ago.
The Southeast Asian country was the first outside of China to report a case of the coronavirus in January 2020, but it weathered the storm better than most in part thanks to strict health restrictions, widespread mask wearing, and border shutdowns.
In recent weeks, however, that streak has ended, with deaths now in double digits, and cases in the thousands daily, shocking a public used to seeing the situation under control compared to other besieged nations across the globe.
The total number of cases now stands at 71,025, with 276 deaths. Of the overall cases, Thailand’s Public Health Ministry reported 2,041 on May 3 alone. It’s a remarkable rise in numbers compared to the previous year, where daily cases often averaged in the single digits and deaths were rarely reported.
“We have to express our sincerest condolences for the families of the 31 who died today,” said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a televised address Monday. “ We hope that the number will not get higher, it is not a high number of deaths compared to other countries, but nevertheless, one death is sorrowful enough.”
On Sunday, officials recorded 21 deaths, the same as Saturday. The rate has surged from single digits in the first half of April.
Over the last week, a Buddhist temple was converted into an isolation ward, health officials have set up large field hospitals, and the streets have gone quiet at night as authorities urge people to stay home.
The Thai government is rolling out new restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease, which includes the highly contagious variant found in the United Kingdom. The variant is reportedly responsible for half of Thailand’s total cases and deaths.
As a way to tighten measures, the government has ordered gyms, spas, cinemas, and other entertainment venues to temporarily close, though malls remain open.
Dining out has been banned in the capital. Mask wearing is now mandatory outside in many provinces. And in a bizarre twist, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha was one of the first to be fined for violating the new restrictions.
But there are still questions lingering over the origins of the latest outbreak, which was linked to two nightclubs in the pricey Thong Lor area of Bangkok, where bars, restaurants and late-night spots are plentiful.
Identified as the Krystal and Emerald Clubs, the spots are reportedly known for attracting wealthy and connected clientele. The Bangkok Post reported that managers from the clubs were jailed for two months after the latest wave. City officials also released a list of multiple bars in Thong Lor and the nearby Ekkamai neighborhood that were tied to infections.
Though nowhere near India, where almost 20,000 million people have now been infected, Thailand is dealing with a newfound sense of alarm over the surge.
The country also has one of lowest vaccination rates in Southeast Asia, with less than one percent of the population having received jabs.