It is official: Covid is now an endemic in Thailand. The proposal to declare Covid-19 as an endemic in Thailand by July 1 has been approved by the Public Health Ministry.
The National Communicable Disease Committee approved the proposal Wednesday, giving Thailand less than four months to de-pandemicize the virus.
In January, Thailand has adopted guidelines for declaring Covid-19 endemic.
Thailand, according to health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, is pursuing a strategy of simultaneously protecting residents’ health and the economy, similar to what numerous other nations are doing. He claims that a number of actions must be done in the next months in order for the virus to be designated as endemic. Vaccination, care and treatment for infected individuals, Covid screening and monitoring, disease control measures, and travel bans are all on the list.
According to Thai media, despite the existence of such safeguards, Anutin believes that life should go on as usual. Even if Covid is now an endemic in Thailand, the health minister has indicated that face masks, as well as avoiding large gatherings, hand-washing, rapid antigen testing, and vaccination, may be necessary.
According to Dr. Kiattibhoom Vongrachit of the Ministry of Health, the shift to endemic status would be divided into four stages. The first is scheduled to take place between now and April and involves inhibiting the virus in order to lower the chance of severe instances. Infections are predicted to peak and then drop during the second stage, which will take place in April and May.
Daily infection rates should reduce to 1,000 to 2,000 during stage 3, which occurs in May and June. Finally, Thailand will enter the post-pandemic phase on July 1, or stage 4, with Covid-19 classed as endemic. The virus will be classified endemic until the death rate falls below 1 in 1,000 patients, or 0.1 percent, according to the health ministry. The current mortality rate in Thailand is between 0.19 and 0.2 percent.
Meanwhile, according to Anutin, almost 2 million older persons have yet to get the first dosage of the Covid vaccination. If younger relatives come around the Songkran holiday, this demographic will be especially vulnerable. To combat the issue, public health volunteers are now being assigned to remote regions to visit older people and convince them to be vaccinated.
How to determine that Covid is now an endemic
The COVID-19 situation is shifting from “pandemic” to “endemic” in Thailand and portions of the United States, which implies the virus will likely continue to circulate among the population, albeit at low rates or periodically.
The new plan should give us reason to be optimistic. However, we must temper our enthusiasm with a good dosage of prudence.
“As we move toward a COVID-controlled life, it’ll be ever-important to assess for real-time changes in the virus and its community impact because we know just how unpredictable this virus can be,” said Dr. Atul Nakhasi, an internist at the Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center in Los Angeles.
How can we tell if it’s safe to take off our masks and continue our daily routine? What signs should we be looking for to see whether we need to re-establish social distance? Five signs are listed below that may help us find solutions.
1. Infection rates
Public health officials in Los Angeles County, where Nakhasi practices, have established a warning system to identify the virus’s danger level. The danger level remains low if the number of new cases stays below 200 per 100,000 persons.
Though vaccination is important in reducing the number of cases, it is not the only strategy to achieve this goal. COVID-19 infection causes most people to develop some level of immunity to the virus. Because of widespread infections and immunizations, one group of experts has determined that 73 percent of Americans are immune to omicron, the prevalent variety, at least for the time being. They predict that by mid-March, that number will have risen to 80%.
If hospitalizations continue to decline while remaining steady, this indicates endemicity. The CDC has shifted its attention from case statistics to hospitalizations. Because, even if the overall number of cases recorded remains low, a spike in hospitalizations might signal that the virus has evolved and the daanger of infection is fast rising.
“A new phase of the pandemic requires a recalibration of metrics that directly highlight true population impact,” said ABC News contributor and Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Childrens Hospital John Brownstein, P.h.D.
“While cases have uncoupled from severe illness, hospitalization numbers will continue to be a robust indicator that public health can rely on,” he added. “Though not the most timely (measure), hospital capacity will continue to reflect risk levels in communities and help guide decisions on mitigation efforts.”
3. Rates of death
Death rates, according to Jodie Guest, an epidemiologist at Emory University, are one indicator of the virus’s severity. According to Guest, the virus has entered the endemic phase if there are less than 100 COVID-19 fatalities per day across the country. Of course, we’ll have to keep an eye on variations and certain sections of the country where community distribution may change.
4. Samples of sewage
Yes, it’s disgusting, but the wastewater that travels through our sewage systems might reveal a lot about illnesses that are spreading in the neighborhood. In fact, data from the CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System revealed that virus levels have reduced in 70% of wastewater facilities compared to two weeks before, indicating that COVID-19 infections are on the decline.
People shed the virus while they are in the early stages of illness, thus wastewater samples are especially significant. As a result, we can detect increased infection rates even before patients show symptoms.
Though infection rates typically drop in the spring and summer, Dr. Ted Smith, an associate professor of environmental medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, even said “wastewater concentrations are dropping in North America,” he cautioned that “the genomics is supportive of a tamped situation.”
5. Clusters of outbreaks
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about COVID-19, it’s that it’s extremely contagious. As a result, public health professionals must be able to recognize clusters of outbreaks in schools and workplaces, which are likely to indicate increased disease levels.
There is one major caveat:
Many individuals may be tempted to believe COVID is a thing of the past when the virus enters its endemic phase. If only it were the case. For starters, each neighborhood is unique. The immunization rate in Vermont is over 80%, whereas it is closer to 50% in Alabama. In the months ahead, residents of these two states will face two very different realities.
Nakhasi warned that even in cities such as Los Angeles, “it’s really important for us to recognize the disproportionate impact this virus has had on our under-resourced and vulnerable communities and prioritize their health, well-being, and life as we prepare for the next surge.”
Also, just though fewer of us are becoming ill doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take preventative measures like cleaning our hands and receiving booster injections when needed.
“We are in an endemic phase when cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have reached a steady state,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, a practicing physician and dean at Brown University’s School of Public Health. “Remember, though, that ‘endemic’ is not the same as ‘not dangerous.'”