Slum cluster was avoidable

Slum cluster was avoidable

After the experiences of the Samut Sakhon and Thong Lor outbreaks, there was a clear expectation that state authorities would now be better prepared to prevent clusters of infections getting out of hand. Yet, the emerging Klong Toey cluster proves the opposite to be the case.

Yesterday, the authorities woke up to an alert from Chulalongkorn Hospital over a surge in Covid-19 cases over the past few days -- a number of patients were from the slum area with several deteriorating quickly.

The hospital's Facebook page yesterday revealed that it had 400 Covid-19 patients in its care, 231 on hospital premises and 169 in designated "hospitels". Of these, 22 are in critical condition.

Another Facebook post by some staff members suggested that it is a chaotic situation.

According to the Public Health Ministry, a total of 304 Klong Toey slum members tested Covid-19 positive in April. Of that number, 99 were detected in three communities, namely Wat Sapan, 70 Rai, and Pattana Mai, in active case finding between April 27-30, with the help of two royally sponsored vans, which uncovered 1,336 cases.

It should be noted that these worrying numbers contradict the impression projected by the Klong Toey District Office.

Piyathida Niyom, chief of the office, expressed optimism about the area. She was quoted by Thai-language media as saying that Klong Toey cases, as of April 28, were dwindling.

Given this perceived confidence, it's no wonder that the agency was sluggish in tackling this latest outbreak -- the country's biggest slum community, with more than 800,000 registered inhabitants, and many more undocumented.

The district chief said a field hospital had been established at Wat Sapan temple community to receive people with mild or no symptoms.

In short, neither the BMA nor Klong Toey District Office were ready for this. Active case finding was already scheduled to begin in Klong Toey and Pathumwan districts tomorrow with 2,000 at-risk citizens -- a miniscule number given the extent of the problem.

Yesterday, the agency decided to revise the plan, and will assess 1,000 cases a day until May 19. It also said it had asked for quick access to vaccines for these communities too -- a move that seems too little, too late.

It's indisputable that sluggish active case finding makes matters worse. The agency admitted that the new surge was linked with the Thong Lor cluster as some entertainment workers live in the slum. Therefore, the question is: Why didn't it put two and two together and take proactive action in the area.

While the BMA has been slow, the Defence Ministry is one step ahead after discussions yesterday with the Port Authority of Thailand about turning its stadium into a 200-bed field hospital.

Yet, the vastness of the area and the population density pose a big challenge to anti-virus efforts. Most residents work outside the area, and the nature of their work makes it impossible for them to work from home.

In order to curb the outbreak quickly, a lockdown may be necessary to quickly separate the virus-free from the infected. Yet, this option requires comprehensive support measures to ease the impact on the people. Many would risk losing their jobs during a lockdown. In addition, more field hospitals must be set up to ease Chulalongkorn Hospital's workload.

Quick and decisive moves are required to control what could become a calamity for Klong Toey.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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