Bangkok closes public spaces as virus surges

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s already locked down capital shut parks and the few remaining public places available to residents yesterday, as the country registered a new high of coronavirus infections.

The near-total restriction on movements in the capital came as the prime minister demanded officials find ways to get the sick into hospitals after people with COVID-19 were found dead on the streets of Bangkok.

The Health Ministry reported 14,575 new cases and 114 deaths around the country, bringing deaths since the pandemic began last year to 3,811. Nearly all of the deaths happened since April following a number of spreading events and public holidays.

The biggest concentration of cases and deaths has been in the capital. About 15 million people live in the Bangkok metropolitan area.

Prime Minister Prayuth Cha-o-cha’s government has come under increasing fire for its management of a Delta variant-fuelled surge and slow vaccination programme. His government has come under severe criticism after reports that people waiting for treatment died in the streets and in their homes.

Thai volunteers with protection suits collect a dead body which has been left for hours on a road in Bangkok. PHOTO: AP

“Most importantly, we have to think what we can do to reduce the number of infected cases that are waiting for ambulances at home or on streets,” Prayuth said at a meeting on Thursday morning.

“This picture must not be seen again. It is the responsibility of every agency, not only the Public Health Ministry. Several involved agencies need to figure out how to bring these patients to field hospitals,” he said of the dead.

The number of people found dead from COVID-19 in the capital was increasing daily, said an official with a charity that has been helping pick them up.

Chief of the Disaster Relief Unit of the Poh Teck Tung Foundation Somboon Kwan-on said in a phone interview that his team has been collecting eight to 10 bodies a day.

Thailand hospitalises and isolates anyone found positive with the virus, putting a strain on the number of beds available. Nearly 4,000 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units yesterday, including 900 on ventilators, said deputy spokesperson for the government’s COVID-19 Administration Center Apisamai Srirangsan.

Meanwhile, more than 20,000 people in the Bangkok region were waiting on COVID-19 treatment beds, excluding more than 2,500 people who were isolated at home or in community settings. In Bangkok alone, 70 people still waiting on beds were already in critical condition.