Boost virus case finding

Boost virus case finding

As the country fights the coronavirus, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has expressed optimism in the pandemic situation, saying it will ease in four to six weeks, citing medical evidence.

The prime minister made the feel-good statement during a meeting on Wednesday with governors of Bangkok and other so-called "dark red" provinces.

His optimism, however, comes too early, and might even be out of place. It is contrary to other important evidence -- the surge in the number of new infections, which soared to a new high of 17,669 and 165 deaths yesterday despite lockdown measures. The real numbers of infections and deaths is believed to be higher due to limited testing.

Earlier this week, Gen Prayut was frustrated with reports of infected people being left to die on the streets due to a lack of facilities to take them in. But information from non-profit organisations that provide assistance to those in need paints a different picture. Thailand's exhausted health sector is a real worry.

In fact, if Gen Prayut is paying attention, he will find the pandemic has opened a bureaucratic can of worms, and there is no reason for complacence. Some agencies, like the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), could do much more to relieve some of the suffering posed by the pandemic. Take the active case-finding initiative -- a key measure in tackling the virus -- and isolation policy as examples.

In Bangkok, active case finding does not exist -- not in reality. According to the BMA, the agency is conducting 400–500 Covid tests per day from Monday to Sunday in Dusit, Ratchathewi and Phra Nakhon districts, totalling 3,300 rapid tests.

With such a low target, this is not "active case finding". Such a halfhearted approach is in sharp contrast to the campaign conducted in city communities this month by the Rural Doctor Society, which carried out about 19,000 tests on July 14–16 and some 30,000 tests on July 21–23. The tests resulted in the discovery of about 6,700 positive cases.

Only a few patients can gain access to services in hospitals, which are filled to the brim with Covid patients. Figuring out that quick detection and isolation will help contain the virus doesn't require rocket science. These moves can reduce the workload demands on medical personnel amid the slow vaccination rollout campaign.

The BMA's target of conducting 400–500 tests per day has no significant impact in this fierce battle as the capital ranks as the top virus hotspot with several thousand cases detected per day. Its isolation centres fare no better, with fewer than 3,500 beds in 23 centres available.

Why the sluggishness? Is it bureaucratic red tape? The BMA is probably worried about what would happen if more cases were found amid the present bed shortage, but there is no other way.

Not all positive cases need hospital admission, but patients must immediately be isolated at home or in community-run isolation centres. Without prompt isolation, it is impossible to contain the virus, as is the case right now.

The lethargic BMA-driven operation only prolongs and intensifies the problem as the lack of timely access to medical services has caused serious illness and even deaths among those in the younger age group. Gen Prayut, who has extended the emergency decree again, must prove the draconian law can make a difference by jolting awake officials whose help is needed to contain the pandemic.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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