Thailand’s plan to re-open the country to foreign tourists in about 100 days has been thrown into doubt as it sees a new surge in Covid cases.
Some 7,000 cases and 75 deaths were reported on Thursday, a daily record for the country.
Thailand had last year seen success in combating the virus, with cases at one point dwindling to single digits.
Last month, the prime minister set a 120-day target for the country to be fully reopened, with all businesses back to normal and freedom for vaccinated tourists to travel around the country.
He said Thailand could not “wait for a time when everyone is fully vaccinated with two shots, or for when the world is free of the virus, to reopen”.
But a spike in cases, linked to the highly infectious Delta strain, means those plans may have to be put on hold.
The rise in cases has put the country’s medical system under strain, with reports suggesting that many hospitals have already run out of beds.
Usually one of the most popular holiday hotspots in the world, Thailand’s tourist industry has been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
Earlier last week, Thailand opened its doors to its first batch of quarantine-free tourists in Phuket.
Around 2,000 tourists have arrived since the “Phuket Sandbox” – the island’s scheme to revive tourism – began.
Visitors are only permitted from countries considered no higher than “medium” risk. Most so far have come from the US, UK, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, says the AP.
On Wednesday, Phuket reported its first overseas Covid-19 case – a male from the UAE.
Most of the country’s cases, however, can be traced to the capital Bangkok.
“A strict lockdown is the only way out,” Dr Anan Jongkaewwattana, told Bloomberg. “If this situation continues, the Thai outbreak will be worse than Indonesia’s on a per capita basis, with as many as 20,000 cases per day in the next few months.”
But many businesses say they cannot survive further lockdowns.
“If my restaurant closes down, what will I do? Will I have to give up everything I’ve built and lay off all my staff?” one restaurant owner told the BBC.
The country is also struggling on its vaccination front. It is failing to meet its monthly vaccination target of 10 million doses.
Earlier last week, a senior health official admitted that only five to six million doses of the AstraZeneca jab are currently available for the whole country and the government will have to order vaccines from other manufacturers in order to have any hope of meeting its goals.
The BBC reports growing public anger over the government’s failure to order enough vaccines.
Around 15% of Thailand’s population has received at least one vaccine dose – with 4.3% of them having received both shots.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has come under personal fire for his handling of the surge, and widely shared cartoons have depicted him sitting on the beach enjoying himself while Thais die from the virus.
Prayuth was also forced to self-isolate this week after a businessman he had contact with at the Phuket sandbox launch tested positive for Covid-19.