Thailand adopts guidelines for declaring COVID-19 endemic

FILE - Local residents wait in long lines to receive shots of the Pfizer vaccine at the Central Vaccination Center in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Thai health authorities approved new guidelines Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, outlining the parameters for declaring the coronavirus pandemic an endemic disease. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File) (Sakchai Lalit, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BANGKOK – Thai health authorities approved new guidelines Friday outlining the parameters for declaring the coronavirus pandemic an endemic disease.

Official figures show that the country already meets the three criteria, but Ministry of Public Health spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati said it would still be between six months and a year before the government would be able to make the decision to start treating COVID-19 as an illness that is here to stay, like the flu or measles.

Among other things, he said data from all of Thailand's provinces need to be checked, and authorities need to be sure that the figures remain at the current levels or improve before it can be declared endemic.

The guidelines drawn up by the ministry's National Communicable Disease Committee are made up of three criteria: that there are fewer than 10,000 new cases per day; that the fatality rate is no higher than 0.1% of those who are admitted to the hospital with an infection; and that more than 80% of at-risk people have had at least two vaccinations.

Currently, Thailand's daily new cases range between 7,000-9,000, and the fatality rate, which was more than 3% in the beginning of the pandemic, has declined to 0.1%, and more than 80% of at-risk people have been fully vaccinated, Rungrueng said.

Thailand joins other countries in preparing to consider the virus endemic, though the World Health Organization has said it's currently too early to consider any immediate shift.

The organization does not have clearly defined criteria for declaring COVID-19 an endemic disease, but its experts have previously said it will happen when the virus is more predictable and there are no sustained outbreaks.

Speaking last week at a World Economic Forum panel, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases doctor in the U.S., said COVID-19 could not be considered endemic until it drops to “a level that it doesn’t disrupt society.”

Thailand reported 8,078 new cases and 22 deaths on Friday, for a total of 2.4 million confirmed cases and 22,098 deaths since the pandemic started in 2020.

To date, it has administered 113.6 million doses of the vaccine and around 48.3 million people, or 70% of its population, are fully vaccinated.