With the rapidly spreading of COVID-19 across the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March announced that the COVID-19 outbreak is a pandemic as the number of infected cases now soared to more than 100,000 around the world.
Amidst this growing international tension, the mounting concerns in Thailand now center around whether the epidemic has yet reached Phase 3, which generally refers to rapid and widespread human-to-human transmission or community-level outbreaks without history of contacts or exposure to infected inbound persons from another country.
According to Professor Dr. Narin Hirunsuthikul, MD., a medical expert in infectious disease and epidemiology at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, Thailand is definitely embarking on Phase 3 of the outbreak but the severity of the situation will depend on the effectiveness of official policy and cooperation from the public in handling the pandemic.
“I have spoken to a professor in computer science who has developed a predictive model of the epidemic using machine learning algorithm. Based on the model and my exchange with the Department of Disease Control, the conclusion is that the next one to two months will be the most critical period of the epidemic in our country. We really have to handle it well to prevent further spread,” said Professor Dr. Narin.
On the university’s front, Professor Dr. Narin affirmed that Chula has prepared several preparatory schemes including online learning, replacing classroom learning with modules or reports or supplanting usual exams with online exams. This is to avoid assembly of a large number of people that is conducive to spreading of the disease.
“Social distancing is an issue which needs to be emphasized during this period. Mass assembly of any types must be avoided. Private sector corporations must take into account working from home measures. And for those under self-quarantine, they must strictly shield themselves from others and avoid any unnecessary public exposure.”
He also emphasizes personal hygiene and preventive measures such as wearing masks in public places, washing hands often, eating cooked and hot food, and using one’s own eating utensils.
“In a way, I feel that Thai people are very conscious about COVID-19 to the point of being panic. Much of the panic can be attributed to the prevalence of fake news about COVID-19 as evidenced in this recent case about a Chula student which was verified to be false,” said Professor Dr. Narin.
Amidst this crisis, Professor Dr. Narin noted that Thai people must try to be careful about the information they are exposed to and only follow reliable and trustworthy sources
Meanwhile, he also stressed that one must also always imagine the worst case scenario to try their best to avoid it. Alongside, the government ought to be play the role that the public can trust and rely on with knowledge-based and applicable policies and measures.
“The Thai public health system is very efficient but the government thus far lacks proper measures. This is clearly reflected in how they continue to allow inbound tourists from risk countries without any restrictions not to mention the scandalous scarcity of preventive masks. This of course erodes the trust in the government and will lead the public to be less and less cooperative with the measures implemented by them,” said Professor Dr. Narin.
Although Professor Dr. Narin does not foresee critical pandemic scenario happening in Thailand as in many parts of Europe, he still stresses the importance of self-quarantine, case screening and public education that all need to continue.
Professor Dr. Narin asserted that the government should rely on their many advisors from various fields and integrate the knowledge for the mutual benefits of the country. The current crisis has already surpassed a health crisis and is now affecting everyone economically, socially and even politically.