BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's Disease Control Department is
preparing for "an epidemic all over the country" because data proves
the coronavirus can continuously double the number of infected people
in less than a week.
If that occurs here, it could multiply Thailand's confirmed 33 victims
to become thousands of infected cases in less than two months.
"If you look at Chinese data, the doubling time or the time when the
number of cases will be doubled, is around a week," said Dr. Thanarak
Plipat, deputy director of Thailand's Bureau of Epidemiology under the
Health Ministry's Department of Disease Control.
"So every week, the number of cases in China will be double. If they
have 1,000 cases, next week it will be 2,000 or a little bit more
because actually the doubling time is a little bit shorter than a
week," Dr. Thanarak said.
"The reproductive numbers are one infected person can spread to more
than two persons, and can infect more than two persons. That's how
quickly it spreads.
"And it has a very short incubation period of about five days. That is
why the doubling time is so short."
The virus' spread in Thailand is being categorized in three different phases.
"Phase One is that we don't have any case in the country, and all of
the cases would be imported cases. At this Phase One, it means that if
you have the epicenter in China, all of the cases are from China," Dr.
"We are in Phase Two. We started to have local transmission. Local
transmission in theory will happen to anybody who has come into close
contact to the imported cases of the Chinese tourists, mainly.
"So we identify the occupations that may contact the Chinese tourists
more than any other job. For example, tour guide, bus driver, taxi
driver, or any other occupation."
He expressed hope that Thailand can contain the coronavirus and
eventually reduce it back to Phase One.
"Phase Three would be the phase of acceleration, and you will have an
epidemic all over the country," Dr. Thanarak said during a recent
presentation at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.
Most of Thailand's 33 cases included Chinese who traveled here from
China, plus a handful of Thais who became infected in Bangkok by human
transmission from close proximity to Chinese carriers.
No other foreigners have been infected in Thailand. No one has died
from the virus, and several patients were released from hospitals,
according to health officials.
"If we enter Phase Three, the more important thing will be try to slow
it down as much as we can," Dr. Thanarak said.
"If there are too many cases enter the hospitals, then there will not
be enough room for all patients. Like what the city of Wuhan is now
"Of course we prepare for the worst, and work our best so that it won't happen."
In addition to the Health Ministry, some other ministries also have
medical facilities which can be used to quarantine and treat patients,
"The prime minister has already given orders for the military to also
come in and help out the health sectors.
"I think we can adapt if the worst case happens. I still hope that we
are not facing that worst case. But if it happens, I think we may
suffer a little bit but I think we can handle it," Dr. Thanarak said.
"For any situation, one best thing anybody can do is not to panic.
What happens today if you are going out to buy the facemask at the
moment? I don't think you can get it. This is because of panic."
While Thailand's overwhelmingly healthy public is panicking, some
people are allegedly making facemasks in filthy, makeshift workshops
at home and selling them to unsuspecting customers.
Others are buying in bulk whatever masks are available and reselling
them at exorbitant rates.
Police arrested at least 11 vendors selling masks at inflated prices
after introducing price controls, officials said.
"If the price of face masks is very high, call a hotline so we can
make arrests," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told the public. "But
be careful if your claims are groundless."
The government and authorized factories increased production of masks,
but many people remain desperate to find them.
Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental
patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco
His online sites are: