BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has its first case of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus inside the country, a health official said on Friday, as authorities raised the total number of cases in the country to 19, the second-highest after China.
The first patient to contract the virus inside Thailand is a Thai taxi driver, said Tanarak Pipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control.
“(He) ...does not have the record of travelling to China, and it is likely that he was infected (by) a sick traveller from China,” Tanarak said.
Authorities have conducted virus scans on 13 people, including three family members, who the taxi driver came into contact with. They said that initially none of them had tested positive for the virus.
“The overall risk of infection in Thailand is still low, but people should take precautions to protect themselves,” Tanarak said.
Thai health officials have urged the public to wear face masks, regularly wash hands and be vigilant in public, especially in areas frequented by tourists.
The taxi driver is one of five other coronavirus cases confirmed in Thailand on Friday.
Seven of the 19 cases have recovered and gone home while 12 are still being treated at hospitals. All but two of the cases are Chinese tourists visiting the country, the health authority said.
Thailand is planning to send a 180-seat Thai AirAsia plane to pick up 161 Thai nationals stranded in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 200 people in China.
“We have not yet received confirmation from China about when our plane can go to pick up stranded Thais, but it should be in a matter of days,” Narumon Pinyosinwat, the government spokeswoman told Reuters.
The vast majority of the almost 10,000 cases identified have been in China, mostly in and around the virus’ epicentre of Wuhan, and health authorities worldwide are seeking to keep the infection from spreading.
There have been at least nine cases of human-to-human transmission in five countries outside China: including the United States, Germany, Japan and now Thailand.
The World Health Organization is looking closely at cases of person-to-person transmission outside of Wuhan, which would suggest that the virus may have the potential to spread further.
Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um. Writing by Kay Johnson; editing by John Stonestreet