By Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand is seeking between five and 10 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine, its prime minister said on Tuesday, as the government seeks to shore-up supplies while battling its fastest-spreading outbreak so far.
Thailand has been credited for its swift containment of its earlier infection waves, but has yet to start mass COVID-19 vaccinations, with just under 572,000 people inoculated with first doses so far.
"We're still waiting for quotations and terms and conditions," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters, adding the targeted delivery period for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines was July to year-end.
His government has been criticised for its slow procurement of vaccines and over-reliance on that of AstraZeneca, which Thailand expects to be available from June.
Authorities on Tuesday assured the public there were sufficient hospital beds for the rising number of coronavirus patients, amid a third wave of infections that has reached all 77 of its provinces.
Thailand's policy of hospitalising all who test positive for COVID-19, even without symptoms, has prompted concern about its capacity should the number of patients with severe symptoms surge.
"We can guarantee you a bed within 24-48 hours," Somsak Akksilp, Director-General of the Department of Medical Services, told reporters.
He said asymptomatic patients and some with mild symptoms would be moved to field hospitals, or "hospitels" - hotels converted into care facilities.
Authorities have also drawn up an alternative plan to allow patients with less serious symptoms to self-isolate at home if new daily infections surpass 10,000 and hospitals cannot cope.
There are currently more than 9,000 Thai hospital beds available, up from 7,000 last week, officials said. The government has asked hospitals to double or increase by 50% their intensive care capacity.
Authorities on Tuesday reported 1,443 new cases and four new deaths, bringing total infections to 45,185 with 108 fatalities. A third of Thailand's cases have come this month, with record infections on most days last week.
The current wave includes the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, which is blamed for big jumps in infections in many countries, including nearby in the Philippines, where hospitals are struggling.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Panu Wongcha-um, and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Martin Petty)