Thailand is contending with a third wave of Covid-19 driven by a fast-spreading variant first identified in Britain after clusters were found across Bangkok’s wealthy party scene including at a VIP club allegedly popular with government officials. Thailand recorded 559 new coronavirus infections on Friday and one more death, after several days of a climbing caseload initially linked to bars and clubs in the capital’s upmarket Thong Lor district was hastened by the travel movements of Bangkok’s wealthy set. The outbreak has now reached 20 provinces and forced nearly a third of cabinet ministers to self-isolate due to exposure to cases. While the cases are small in comparison to nations from Brazil to the UK hammered by the virus, Thai authorities are desperate to avoid the double calamity of a public health crisis and economic ruin – the kingdom’s GDP slumped by 6.1 per cent last year. But the Southeast Asian nation is braced for bad news, as several major Bangkok hospitals – including private facilities – took to Facebook to warn they had run out of testing kits and bed space prompting the government to scramble to set up field hospitals for the anticipated surge in cases. Will Thailand’s 10-day quarantine rule spark a revival of tourism? Phuket – which has been rapidly vaccinating its population in a bid to reopen to foreign tourists – also faced a setback after around 10 cases were confirmed. The infections were mainly linked to partygoers at a dance music festival held last weekend. The new cluster also threatens renewed restrictions on a resort island already a wasteland of broken businesses caused by closed borders and travel restrictions. The outbreak comes ahead of next week’s Songkran festival which usually sees millions criss-cross the country to visit relatives. The authorities have cancelled the official Thai New Year events and banned water-soaked street parties. The government is yet to order an extensive lockdown as Premier Prayuth Chan-ocha said his administration was seeking a balance “between managing the health and economic crisis.” Thailand on Friday said bars, pubs, karaoke and massage parlours in Bangkok and 40 provinces will remain closed until April 23. The decision dealt a fresh blow to the hospitality sector after a torrid year of lost business, leaving low-paid hospitality staff again facing a prolonged period without work. Thais took to social media on Thursday to take a swipe at the Bangkok elites, with the hashtag #CovidThonglor trending on Twitter. “Poor people are unlucky because we have to pay the price for the sloppy rich,” said one user. “Oh boy Too, what are you gonna do?” another said, using the prime minister’s nickname. “You can’t order another full lockdown because you’re out of relief funds, the economy has hit rock bottom and you clearly can’t manage the virus because you don’t have a plan.” Thai billionaire snaps up troubled hotels, betting on tourism rebound On Tuesday, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob was one of the first cabinet members to announce he had tested positive for Covid-19. Speculation has swirled on social media that Saksayam may have contracted the disease after visiting or coming into contact with someone who went to Krystal Club, a VIP entertainment venue. The minister has denied going to the club. Fah Sai, a worker at the club, said in a Facebook post on Monday she had been diagnosed with Covid-19 and urged anyone who visited the nightspot to get tested. The club – which advertises karaoke rooms, DJs and hosts performances by scantily clad dancers – is known as “Government House 2”, according to Chuwit Kamolwisit, a former massage parlour owner and politician turned commentator. “This place is a Hi-So (high society) lounge with a minimum spend of 200,000 baht (US$6,300) per room,” he said. “I’m speaking up now because there are far too many incidents in which the rich are spreading the virus to the poor.” “I want to urge you [the VIPs] to man up and disclose your timeline to the public so people can take necessary measures,” Chuwit said, adding the club was a regular haunt of influential people in Thailand who arrived in convoys into covered parking areas. Meanwhile, authorities said they expect to contain the outbreak in one or two months in the provinces, but it will likely take longer in Bangkok.