The Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is now being detected in all provinces of Thailand, with health authorities expecting almost every new coronavirus infection to stem from the new strain by the end of this month.
Dr Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences, said 86.8% of 3,711 samples analyzed from January 11 to 17 are of the Omicron variant, while only 13.2% are the Delta variant.
If specimens are limited to the 1,437 samples collected from international travelers during the period, 96.9% were Omicron and just 3.1% were Delta. Of the 2,274 samples collected from domestic transmission cases, Omicron made up 80.4% of samples while Delta was 19.6%.
Dr Supakit said random analyses of people repeatedly infected with COVID revealed that immunity against previous variants was ineffective in protecting against Omicron. However, he said it is now clear that the symptoms of the Omicron variant are less severe than those of Delta, adding that almost all new infections in Thailand will be from Omicron by the end of this month.
According to the director-general, the number of severe COVID cases and deaths will continue to fall if new infections can be limited to no more than 10,000 per day. He also said that as long as no new variants or severe mutations of the coronavirus come into play, the Omicron strain may help end the pandemic, as predicted by many experts.
Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Public Health, said cooperation from all parties in implementing disease control measures kept this month’s wave of outbreaks from reaching the peaks forecast in some simulations. However, he said the rising number of infections in Greater Bangkok is drawing concern, adding that the capital has more relaxed restrictions than other provinces and is also the one with the highest rate of population movement. He further noted that he would like as many senior citizens to get vaccinated as possible despite Omicron symptoms being generally less severe, as members of high-risk groups may develop severe symptoms regardless.
The permanent secretary also said the Ministry of Public Health will follow up on daily developments concerning the extension of drinking hours to 11 PM. Outbreak clusters or violations of relaxed alcohol regulations will result in venues being shut down.