A group of 11 people in Thailand have been tested positive for coronavirus following contact with an infected Hong Kong tourist, Thai authorities said on Thursday. The news came as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday. The group of friends, all in their 20s to 30s, shared drinks and cigarettes at two social gatherings in Thailand late last month. Reuters quoted the director-general of the country’s Disease Control Department Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai as saying that a Hongkonger was among the group. Thailand now has 70 infections.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok. File photo: Gary Todd, via Flickr.

First detected in Hubei, China, Covid-19 has now infected more than 126,000 people and led to over 4,600 deaths globally. They were 130 confirmed cases in Hong Kong as of Thursday morning. Hong Thai Travel Services Ltd. said that all tours from Monday until the end of March would be cancelled in view of the government’s inconsistent announcements concerning quarantine orders for Hong Kong travellers. A top Thai health official announced on Facebook last Thursday that travellers from highly affected areas – including Hong Kong – should undergo a 14-day quarantine, but the post was deleted minutes later. On Monday, the Tourism Authority of Thailand stated on Facebook that travellers from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Iran and Italy must fill in health declaration forms and be quarantined for two weeks. Some airlines such as Thai Airways International have required passengers – including those from Hong Kong – present a health certificate before boarding, the Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday.

According to Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, there were 32,529,588 visits made to Thailand throughout 2019 – including 1,045,198 arrivals from Hong Kong and 10,994,721 from China. Pandemic On Wednesday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom told the press that Covid-19 was now being categorised as a pandemic: “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus… And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled.” A pandemic is defined by the UN agency as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. File photo: UN.

He expressed grave concern over the “alarming” severity of the outbreak’s spread. He added that there has been a 13-fold increase of confirmed infections and a tripling of cases outside of China within a fortnight. Tedros called for urgent and aggressive action by relevant countries, urging them to activate and scale up emergency response mechanisms: “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.” On Thursday, Hong Kong’s Undersecretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi said at a press conference that unnecessary travel by citizens should be postponed.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.