Police use rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators in Bangkok.
Thailand’s health ministry sounded the alarm about Bangkok’s dire lack of hospital beds and isolation facilities on Thursday as COVID-19 cases and deaths soared to a new record.
The Southeast Asian country is struggling to contain its latest outbreak fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, with infections and deaths skyrocketing and the healthcare system stretched thin.
Despite the hardest-hit provinces being placed under severe restrictions and a nighttime curfew, Thailand on Thursday registered a new single-day record of 17,669 cases and 165 deaths.
“I am speaking frankly – we do not have enough beds in hospitals,” said Somsak Akkasilp, the health ministry’s director-general of the Department of Medical Services, in an uncharacteristically candid news conference.
“In big hospitals, all [intensive care units] are over-occupied. They have 10 beds for ICU but they have to handle 12 ICU cases,” he said, adding that medics were moving critical patients from the emergency room once the beds are vacated.
Hospitals in the capital have the capacity to manage 1,000 new patients a day, but Somsak said they were well past that number – with 4,000 new cases recorded on Thursday in Bangkok alone.
While authorities are starting to recommend home isolation for milder cases, there are issues with supplying medicine to them, said Somsak.
In addition, the city’s isolation and quarantine facilities are getting filled, and metropolitan authorities are working with private hospitals to free up more beds.
“But I have to speak frankly, no matter how much we increase it, it is not likely to be enough for this current outbreak,” Somsak said.
“We do not know if the pandemic has reached its peak yet … we have to flatten the curve,” he added.
Thailand has reported more than 561,000 coronavirus cases and 4,562 deaths.
The bulk of them were detected since the latest wave kicked off in April from an upscale Bangkok nightlife district frequented by the politically connected.
The administration of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has come under vociferous criticism for its handling of the pandemic, from accusations of vaccine mismanagement to the lack of government compensation for affected sectors.
Currently, the kingdom is administering Sinovac, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca doses.
But the mass inoculation campaign has been slow, with much of the population angered that the government has not procured Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use newer mRNA technology.
Fresh Phuket restrictions
Phuket will ban travel from the rest of the country from August 3-16 to try to stop coronavirus cases from spreading to the resort island, but overseas visitors will be largely unaffected, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
Since July 1, tourists fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have been allowed to move freely on the island, with no self-isolation on arrival, an initiative dubbed the “Phuket sandbox”.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the new travel rules will restrict movement to Phuket from elsewhere in Thailand, meaning foreign visitors who stay on the island will not be affected.
Tourists who have stayed on Phuket for more than 14 days will be allowed to leave for other parts of Thailand and can re-enter Phuket only if they have international flights booked from the island’s airport, Tanee said.
An order signed by Phuket’s provincial governor said exceptions would also be made for medical supplies and personnel and supplies of fuel, money and food.