Thailand’s hospitals under pressure as Covid crisis deepens

Thailand’s Covid outbreak is getting worse and is putting its hospitals under pressure, forcing doctors to treat patients in parking lots and turn people who are severely ill away.

The country was widely praised for its Covid response last year, when it maintained one of the lowest cases in the world. However the general public are angry at the government's recent handling of the pandemic, including its slow and disorganised vaccination campaign.

Cases have been on the rise since April, with infections spreading in Bangkok as a result of nightlife venues, including clubs popular among wealthy businessmen. Cases have now spread across prisons, factories, construction sites and densely populated areas of the capital.

In the last four months, the country’s total death rate has risen from fewer than 100 to 4,146. Some have died in their homes because no hospital beds were available, according to medical volunteers. Others have died on the streets of Bangkok, including one person whose body was left on the pavement for hours last week, provoking public outrage.

The government has been criticised for not introducing a lockdown months ago, when case numbers were lower. Various restrictions have been introduced in stages, with stricter measures, including a 9pm curfew, imposed on 12 July across high-risk areas such as Bangkok.

The prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said that the government was considering more restrictions as the country battled its worst coronavirus outbreak yet, fueled by the highly transmissible Alpha and Delta Covid-19 variants.

Professor Anucha Apisarnthanarak, chief of the infectious diseases division at Thammasat University, said it was unclear when daily cases – now more than 15,000 – would start to fall.

Infections are now spreading among family members at home, he added: “Transmission in this situation, where [the] The vaccine has not been widely disseminated, it can be very alarming and exponential. “

A government rule that hospitals must admit patients with positive results has resulted in facilities limiting their daily PCR tests, making it difficult for patients to access. Although a home isolation policy has been adopted, hospitals must still monitor these patients when resources are already stretched.

Images on social media show the pressure facing medical staff. On Monday, Rachapiphat hospital in Bangkok posted a photo on Facebook of its car park, where beds had been set up for patients from its emergency department. Last week, similar images were shared of Saraburi hospital, where patients were waiting on beds in an outdoor parking area.

About 5% of the Thai population is fully vaccinated, while 17% have received one dose according to Our World in Data.

The statement follows a leaked letter by AstraZeneca, which said it would supply about 6m doses a month to Thailand. This appeared to contradict a claim by the government that it was due to receive 10m doses.

Thailand is a regional hub for production for the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, production by the Royal-owned company BioScience, which has not previously produced vaccines, has suffered delays.