Thailand starts vaccination drive in crowded Bangkok district

Thailand launched a campaign on Tuesday, May 4, to vaccinate 50,000 people living in a crowded river-side district of the capital Bangkok, as the country tries to contain a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Authorities aim to vaccinate about 70% of people in Khlong Toei, an area that is home to about 80,000 people, after more than 300 residents became infected in the latest outbreak that started in early April.

The inoculation drive will last about two weeks and health workers also intend to test up to 1,000 people per day, said Asawin Kwanmuang, governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Thailand, which for the most part brought the virus under control for around a year, has recently faced a spike in cases including the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant that has accounted for over half of its total cases and deaths.

A third of the new cases since April have been from Bangkok, prompting health authorities to focus on the capital and 3 surrounding provinces, with the rest of Thailand's 77 provinces already largely under control. "The provinces are able to control the outbreak and new cases are decreasing, leaving only Bangkok and 3 surrounding provinces that are still seeing a slow uptick in infections," Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Disease Control Department, told a news conference.

Besides Khlong Toei, authorities will also ramp up testing in 7 other crowded Bangkok communities to contain developing clusters.

A new cluster was identified in a factory in Samut Prakan province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, where 160 were infected.

On Tuesday, Thailand reported 1,763 new coronavirus cases and 27 deaths, bringing the total to 72,788 cases and 303 fatalities since the pandemic began.

The Bangkok vaccination drive came ahead of the nationwide inoculations that are set to begin in June, when the first batch of what is targeted to reach 61 million locally manufactured AstraZeneca doses becomes available.

Thailand aims to have 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of the year, though the rollout has been slower compared with some neighboring countries. –