Virus cases pass 1 million

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha talks to a Covid patient via a telehealth system during his visit to ‘Sanam Saeng Haeng Jai’ field hospital in Samut Prakan province on Friday. The facility has 450 beds and uses robots to get food and medicines to patients. (Government House photo)

There are several lessons the country must learn from the mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis after Thailand reached the grim milestone of more than one million accumulated cases on Friday, according to the president of the Rural Doctors Society.

The first domestic case on Jan 12 last year was a 61-year Chinese woman from Wuhan where Covid-19 had first been detected the previous month.

Then, the first Thai to test positive was on Jan 31 after a 50-year-old taxi driver drove an infected arrival from Wuhan to hospital.

As of Friday, 1,009,710 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in Thailand since then, with the death toll at 8,826.

Dr Supat Hasuwannakit, the chief of the society, said that it proves that no country in the world is safe, despite Thailand’s early confidence that it had succeeded in containing the first wave of the pandemic. Mistakes involving later, more contagious variants put the country on alert, he said.

“Another lesson is that we failed to take advantage of an opportunity to prepare when the pandemic slowed down. We did not learn from other countries enough. When the third wave struck in April, chaos ensued with a lack of vaccine preparations, medical management and proactive testing,” Dr Supat said.

He also criticised the government’s procurement of vaccines from AstraZeneca, saying it underestimated both availability and demand. Originally, it ordered only 3 million doses per month, and then five and now ten million doses per month.

“In order for the government to prevent the situation from worsening any further, it must procure as many vaccine doses as possible quickly. Although mRNA and viral vector vaccines would be preferable, Sinovac and Sinopharm can also help reduce death rates. Mixing and matching different vaccines can actually help,” he said.

Nimit Tien-udom, director of the Aids Access Foundation and member of the National Health Security board, said that the government must lift the lockdown and allow activities and businesses to resume.

He said that the current lockdown restrictions have achieved little so the government should review the measures and allow people to resume their normal lives while ramping up vaccinations for all.

Suchatvee Suwansawat, rector of King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, said that Thailand was not the first country hit by the severe impacts of the pandemic.

Several countries and regions such as China, Europe and the US suffered the worst effects of the pandemic before Thailand. Thailand had the time to learn from their experiences and should have handled the pandemic better.

But as it happened, lessons were not learned after the new wave triggered by clusters at camps for construction workers and night entertainment venues, he said.

“The government should not rely solely on medical professionals’ advice. It should brainstorm ideas from all sectors to look at what direction the world will move in and how the country should prepare. The government should gather opinions from a variety of experts and use them for national planning,” Mr Suchatvee said.

Supensri Phungkhoksoong, director of the Social Equality Promotion Foundation, said that the pandemic has had a widespread impact, leaving many penniless and unemployed.

“There has been a sharp rise in street sleepers among those with no money to pay their rent,” she said, adding that the government should find ways to help ease their plight such as by offering debt moratoriums and finding ways to create jobs for them.

She also said budget spending by state agencies should be reviewed and funds should be diverted to assist needy people.

“Covid-19 is now a national agenda item. The government and private sector must work together to achieve the aim [of economic recovery]. Some regulations should be relaxed for the sake of everyone’s survival,” Ms Supensri said.