Prepare for the worst

Prepare for the worst

After the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, Thailand has started to see a rise of local infection clusters over the past few days. There is a possibility that the country will soon enter Stage 3 -- when the virus spreads rapidly to considerable numbers of people at the community level.

Given the government's sluggishness in responding to this health crisis, Thais have good reason to worry whether authorities are prepared for Stage 3 or even the worst-case scenario.

With the number of infections standing at 75 as of yesterday, the Public Health Ministry insisted that the country has yet to enter Stage 3. However, there is no room for complacency. The government's lack of proactive testing methods along with lax quarantine and monitoring measures means that no one knows how high the number of undetected cases could actually be.

The Public Health Ministry's Stage-3 strategy covers measures on overall coordination, treatment and containment. These measures, however, are too broad and lack specific execution strategies, something which should be defined.

To execute the plan, the government needs to prioritise setting up medical facilities and providing medical supplies for both professionals and those in contact with patients. This task, however, could end up being an uphill one. Even under the current conditions, it is unable to ensure sufficient availability of the most basic supplies -- face masks and alcohol-based hand sanitiser products.

The administration of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha needs to draw up specific measures for this scenario and reveal them to the public. If the country enters Stage 3, the main focus will be on hospital treatment. There will be a need for more hospital beds, medical gear and professionals to provide treatment and care for patients.

The country's public health system is known for being resource-constrained. Adding escalating numbers of Covid-19-infected patients to this system will only overload it. The government needs to think ahead and designate health facilities and other private and public places to cater for this group of patients. It should also evaluate whether there will be sufficient medical professionals and supplies available for testing and treatment, and if not, what the alternatives are to be.

Also unknown is whether the government has stringent policies for social distancing, such as suspending schools and telecommuting if the country reaches Stage 3 or worse. These strategies will be vital to slow down the rate of transmission.

The best strategy, for now, is to contain the outbreak through proactive testing and monitoring of those at risk of infection. Using big data and technology can help with keeping track of the contagion as well as identifying areas where infections have been reported.

Recently, a private company called 5Lab created an online platform that identifies locations of recovered and hospitalised patients as well as specific areas where there are suspected infections. The application also reports fake news on infections. The disbanded Future Forward Party has also used crowdsourcing methods to allow users to locate the nearest pharmacies dispensing masks and alcohol gel.

The Thoracic Society of Thailand yesterday issued a statement describing how state and private hospitals should prepare for a Stage 3 outbreak as well as expressing concern about the state's lack of preparedness.

It seems as if these three bodies have stayed ahead of the curve in this virus health crisis, while the government is still handling it as business as usual.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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