Thailand: Covid-19 patients sent back to their hometowns on sleeper trains

Thai citizens seeking Covid-19 treatment in Bangkok are being returned to their hometowns by train, in an effort to alleviate the burden on the capital’s medical system.

Thailand is struggling to contain its worst Covid-19 wave of the pandemic, with hospitals in Bangkok becoming overwhelmed by a surge in cases and demand for beds greatly outstripping capacity.

On Tuesday, a train carrying 135 migrant workers with mild or no Covid symptoms left Bangkok for the country’s northeastern provinces, Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a Facebook post. The train was set to drop patients off in seven provinces, where they will be picked up by a team of doctors and nurses, and sent for isolation and treatment.

“There should be no fear of the spread of Covid-19 since we have a good system from the beginning taking them from their accommodation to their destinations,” Anutin said. “You should be confident it will be a ‘sealed route’.”

On Wednesday, the nation reported 16,533 Covid-19 cases — the highest daily infections, and 133 new deaths, according to the country’s Covid task force CCSA. In total, there have been 543,361 confirmed infections and 4,397 fatalities from the virus, the CCSA said.

Last week, there was public outcry after several bodies were found dead on the streets and left lying on the road for hours before an ambulance retrieved them.

With rising cases and deaths spurred by new variants, and amid sluggish vaccine rates, authorities are racing to lessen the burden on the health care system.

In the capital, which has suffered the brunt of new cases, authorities plan to convert 15 passenger train carriages into a community isolation facility for Covid-19 patients waiting for hospital beds, Bangkok’s governor Aswin Kwanmuang said on Tuesday.

The converted train carriages will hold 240 beds and are expected to be operational from Friday.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has announced more community isolation facilities will be set up in each of the capital’s 50 districts to receive Covid-19 patients who cannot isolate at home.

Sports stadiums, temples and private buildings have also been turned into coronavirus isolation wards.

The rush comes as Thai health officials said demand for hospital beds in Bangkok is three times higher than current capacity because of the surge in Covid-19 cases.