Virus covered by universal health care

Virus covered by universal health care

Official: Mask shortages due to lack of raw materials

People choose washable cloth masks sold from 25-70 baht each at Talat Sampheng in Bangkok on Monday. (Photo by Pornprom Sattrabhaya)
People choose washable cloth masks sold from 25-70 baht each at Talat Sampheng in Bangkok on Monday. (Photo by Pornprom Sattrabhaya)

Coronavirus will be officially covered under the universal healthcare programme while authorities are rushing to ease protective mask shortages as Thailand takes action to contain a possible spread of the disease.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the board of the National Health Security Office (NHSO) approved the inclusion on Monday.

A 3.5-billion-baht budget will be sought from the contingency budget for treatment in the remaining seven months of fiscal 2020 ending in October, he said.

A surplus of the fund may also be tapped for the purpose, but not more than 1 billion baht.

The coverage includes all costs — from prevention, awareness campaigns, diagnosis and treatment to rehabilitation —  for 48.3 million members of the programme, also known as the gold card. 

NHSO secretary-general Dr Sakchai Kanchanawattana said on Monday hospitals had already served people under the universal healthcare programme but the inclusion of it in the list of diseases would make it easier to manage the costs.  

He added local NHSO funds, in collaboration with local administration organisations, could also tap the fund to prevent the outbreak and promote awareness in densely populated communities.

Mask shortages

To solve the ongoing shortfall of protective masks, the Commerce Ministry will on Wednesday launch a caravan of 111 Blue Flag vehicles to sell the product to communities nationwide.

Of the 111 minivans, 21 will serve Greater Bangkok and the remaining 90 will go to communities in the provinces. The masks will be sold in packs of four for 10 baht each.

The problem stemmed from shortages of raw materials after China no longer exported them, said Vichai Pochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department under the Commerce Ministry.

Local factories have a combined daily output of 1.35 million pieces but could not make more because of the shortages of raw materials, he said. 

Of the output, 600,000 pieces are allocated to the Public Health Ministry and Commerce Ministry each day. The remaining 750,000 pieces were distributed through normal trade channels, he said.

The Commerce Ministry took legal action against 31 sellers for overpricing. The punishments are seven years in jail and/or a fine of 140,000 baht. It urges people to report high prices through the 1569 hotline.

On Saturday, private hospitals issued a statement warning about a critical shortage of protective masks.

Charlerm Harnpanij, chairman of the Private Hospitals Association, said in a statement 250 facilities were facing the shortages.

They could not buy the masks by themselves because the Internal Trade Department had put the product on the control list and manufacturers must sell them only to the department.

The hospitals claimed to have contacted the department but were told to put their names on the waiting list.

Mr Anutin wrote on Facebook on Monday it was not the ministry's duty to sell or supply masks to people or private hospitals and urged them to contact the Commerce Ministry instead.

"The Public Health Ministry provides masks only to public facilities. It's not our duty to sell the products to people except when there is excessive supply," he said.

He explained the product sold by the Government Pharmaceuticals Organisation (GPO) under the ministry are selling 10,000 pieces a day to people but there was extra supply after the products were distributed to public hospitals.

Another 100,000 pieces handed out each day during this period are part of the 1.1 million pieces donated and the GPO's extra supply.   

He said the distribution was only temporary to help solve the shortages.

According to the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only people who coughs or sneezes should wear a mask; a healthy person does not need it to protect himself from the virus.

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