The worsening Covid epidemic in Thailand is putting intense pressure on hospitals, forcing doctors to treat patients in parking lots and turn seriously ill people away.
The country was widely praised for its response to Covid last year, when it maintained one of the lowest numbers of cases in the world. However, the public is increasingly unhappy with the government’s recent handling of the pandemic, including its slow and chaotic vaccination campaign.
A third wave began in April, when infections began to spread to Bangkok’s nightlife spots, including clubs popular among wealthy businessmen. Since then, the cases have spread to prisons, factories, construction sites and densely populated areas of the capital.
In about four months, the total number of deaths in the country fell from less than 100 to 4,146. Some have died at home because no hospital beds were available, according to volunteer doctors. Others have died on the streets of Bangkok, including one whose body was left on the sidewalk for hours last week, sparking public outrage.
“The government is still walking behind the Covid,” said Ekapob Laungprasert, who leads a group of volunteers, Sai Mai Tongrot (Sai Mai Must Survive), which helps people with the virus. “They took action after the problems arose. They need to change their strategy and think further. They need to research quality vaccines and get them to everyone quickly.
“Thais find it difficult to get vaccinated while other countries are doing a lottery to encourage people to get vaccinated. “
The government has been criticized for not introducing a lockdown months ago, when the number of cases was lower. Various restrictions were introduced in stages, with stricter measures, including a 9 p.m. curfew imposed on July 12 in high-risk areas such as Bangkok.
Prof Anucha Apisarnthanarak, head of the infectious disease division at Thammasat University, said it was not clear when daily cases – now more than 15,000 – would start to decline.
The actual number of cases is difficult to assess as many patients, unable to access testing, are forced to stay at home, Anucha said. “Many cases don’t have a suitable place to house them: we don’t have beds in the hospital, we don’t have beds in the field hospital. They have to be at home or somewhere else, ”he said.
Infections are now spreading among family members at home, he added: “Transmission in this situation, where [the] the vaccine has not been widely released, can be very alarming and exponential.
A government rule that hospitals must admit patients who test positive has led facilities to cap their daily PCR tests, making them more difficult for patients to access. Although a home isolation policy has been adopted, hospitals are still required to monitor these patients when resources are already depleted.
On social media, long lines of people line up in parking lots and tent areas at Bangkok test sites. At a drive-thru test center in Nakhon Pathom, a town in central Thailand, lines of cars stretched 1 km beyond the hospital, according to the Matichon newspaper reports.
Sai Mai Must Survive has seen a surge in requests for help. By early June, the group was receiving about 30 calls a day, but that number has now grown to 200. The group provides medical supplies to people at home, such as oxygen monitors and tanks.
Critically ill patients are taken to hospital, Ekapob said, but some are denied admission. “Maybe there are two out of 10 cases that the hospital could not take care of for lack of available beds and they died at home,” he said.
Images on social media show the pressure medical staff are facing. Bangkok’s Rachapiphat Hospital posted a photo of its parking lot on Facebook on Monday, where beds had been set up for patients in its emergency department. Similar images were shared last week from Saraburi hospital, where patients waited on beds in an outdoor parking lot.
The worsening epidemic has heightened anger over the rollout of the vaccine in the country. On Monday, hundreds of academics and media professionals released a joint statement calling for greater transparency regarding vaccine contracts – including details on who was receiving which vaccines and when doses were due to be delivered to the country.
About 5% of the Thai population is fully vaccinated, while 17% have received a dose according to Our World in Data.
The statement follows a letter leaked by AstraZeneca, which said it would deliver about 6 million doses per month to Thailand. This seemed to contradict a government claim that he was to be given doses of 10 million.
Thailand is a regional hub for the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, the production of the company Royal BioScience, which has not produced vaccines before, has suffered delays.