In Bangkok, an army of volunteers fights coronavirus

In Bangkok, an army of volunteers fights coronavirus

Buddhist monk Phrompong Kaino puts on personal protective equipment (PPE) to perform coronavirus disease testing in a community near his temple in Bangkok, Aug 4, 2021. (Reuters photo)

Monk Phrompong Kaino, 33, works around the clock providing free Covid-19 swab tests for vulnerable people in high-risk Bangkok communities, part of a project by his temple that has reached more than 2,000 people in just over a month.

He is one of thousands of ordinary people who have pitched in to try to help the country get out of its worst coronavirus crisis to date, which has strained hospitals and health services in the capital.

One in five of those tested by the project Phra Phrompong’s temple runs were positive for Covid-19 and were offered care at the temple in community isolation, or found hospital beds.

“Medical teams cannot meet the demand,” Phra Phrompong said.

“No matter if they are Buddhist, Christian or Muslim communities, we are all human beings and citizens who deserve to get treated fairly and immediately.”

Thailand is on course to pass the 1 million mark in coronavirus cases this week, with 7,700 deaths so far, including a record 239 on Tuesday.

Vaccination rates are low due to supply shortages and temples are inundated with bodies to cremate.

Pairuch Sudtoop is a volunteer for a foundation funded by donations that has provided free undertaking and cremation services for about 350 people in recent months.

“The nation is in crisis now, I’ve never seen Thais suffer this much,” Mr Pairuch said.

He volunteers on top of his job as a business owner and church worker.

“As the last person at the gate between the human world and the afterlife, it’s hard to control our emotions not to be sad.”

The government has hotlines for infected people to call for help, but has been criticised for failing to cope with a surge in demand.

A group of aerospace engineers has created a platform to connect volunteers with infected people needing assistance, tracking their locations and waiting times. It also provides information like available community isolation centres and places to refill oxygen tanks.

Volunteer developer Wasanchai Vongsantivanich points to red dots on a screen showing a Bangkok map and those awaiting help.

“You can see the situation is pretty bad,” he said, adding 9,000 volunteers signed up in the first three weeks.

“They are just trying to help people in the community.”