Thailand has started using sleeper trains to transport Covid patients out of Bangkok, where hospitals have been overwhelmed by a recent surge in cases.
The first train left the capital on Tuesday and transported 137 asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients to their cities of origin in the northeast of the country.
Thailand faces its third and most severe wave of Covid since the start of the pandemic, fueled by the Delta variant, which has spread widely across the capital. Hospitals have been forced to treat patients in parking lots and turn away those who are seriously ill.
Since April, the total number of deaths in the country has risen from less than 100 to 4,397. 16,533 cases and 133 deaths were reported on Wednesday.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Tuesday that the service would transfer patients who were unable to access treatment in Bangkok. “The process is all assured because they will be closely monitored by doctors and staff and they will not stop anywhere. There will be an emergency team and an ambulance waiting at the destination, ”he said.
Buses, vans and planes can also be used to move people across the country, he said.
Another 15 wagons will be used to isolate patients waiting for hospital beds in Bangkok.
A doctor from the Mor Mai Thon (Doctors will not tolerate it) group, who has criticized the government’s response, described the situation in Bangkok as critical. “It has gotten to the point where people cannot access health care at all, which has never happened before. There are a lot of people who cannot receive treatment, ”said the doctor, who asked to remain anonymous.
Moving patients with mild symptoms could help Bangkok hospitals in the short term, the doctor said. But they added that if those patients developed a more serious illness, this could overwhelm hospitals in other areas of the country, where there are fewer intensive care beds. “The Delta variant is very strong, 50% of patients develop a serious condition,” they said.
The government should focus on expanding testing capacity, the doctor said, while drugs must be given more quickly to patients to prevent their disease from deteriorating.
Every day about 70,000 tests are carried out, of which 20.5% are positive. The demand for tests is so high that long lines stretch outside the hospitals where the swabs are performed.
Thailand managed to escape the worst of the virus last year when it introduced strict lockdown measures and launched test-and-trace systems. Critics have accused the government of compliance ever since, especially in relation to the country’s vaccination campaign, which has suffered from delays and shortages.
About 5% of the Thai population is fully vaccinated, while 12.4% have received a dose, according to Our World in Data. Large crowds have gathered at Bang Sue Grand Station in recent weeks, Bangkok’s vaccination center, raising concerns that the virus could spread downtown.
Mor Mai Thon is calling for greater transparency in government vaccine contracts and for officials to focus on purchasing a wider range of doses.
Thailand trusts AstraZeneca and Sinovac. However, studies suggest that the effectiveness of Sinovac decreases 40 days after the second dose. A growing number of Thai doctors, who received this vaccine at the beginning of the year, have become infected. While most doctors experience mild illness, they must isolate themselves and this puts more pressure on resources.
“When a doctor becomes infected, the people around him, like nurses, medical students, must also quarantine themselves,” said Suvinai Jiraboonsri, president of IFMSA, a group of medical students. “It is a waste of time and resources at this critical time. They need to get better vaccines. “
The government has said that it will give booster doses of alternative doses to doctors.