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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai health authorities warned on Wednesday that residents should brace themselves for a potential jump in coronavirus cases after classifying the country's first cluster of the Omicron variant as a super-spreader incident.
The Omicron cluster identified in the northeastern province of Kalasin on Christmas eve has been linked to a couple who had travelled from Belgium and visited bars, concerts and markets.
The ensuing cluster had infected hundreds, with cases spreading to 11 other provinces, said senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong, citing how one of the bars linked to the cluster had been packed and did not have good ventilation.
"During the New Year, if you visit any place and it does not look safe, just don't go," Opas told a briefing.
Up to now, Thailand has reported 740 cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, including 251 in people who had come into contact with foreign arrivals, said Opas.
After coronavirus infections peaked in August above 20,000, daily case numbers have fallen to around 2,500 in the past week.
But the health ministry's planning scenario indicated that by March daily infections could hit 30,000, with more than 160 deaths, without a faster rollout of measures like vaccinations and testing, as well as greater social distancing.
If restrictions were tightened, daily cases could peak at 14,000 in February, with fewer than 60 daily deaths, the scenario showed.
In the first two weeks of January, government employees have been advised they can work from home, coronavirus taskforce spokesman Taweesin Wisanuyothin told a separate briefing, where he urged the private sector to follow suit.
After detecting the first local Omicron infection last week, Thai authorities reinstated mandatory quarantine for foreign arrivals and suspended a "Test & Go" programme that allowed vaccinated travellers to avoid quarantine.
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Ed Davies)