Doctors issue Stage-3 warning

Doctors issue Stage-3 warning

Nation 'not equipped' for full-on epidemic

Staff busily clean Mor Chit bus terminal in Chatuchak district of Bangkok on Friday, when the Public Health Ministry announced five new local Covid-19 cases. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
Staff busily clean Mor Chit bus terminal in Chatuchak district of Bangkok on Friday, when the Public Health Ministry announced five new local Covid-19 cases. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

An association of chest physicians is calling on the government to prepare for Covid-19 to become a "Stage 3", full-blown epidemic in Thailand while slamming the authorities' slow response to the spread of the disease.

On its Facebook page, the Thoracic Society of Thailand issued an emotionally charged statement warning that the country might not be equipped to deal with a drastic escalation in the number of cases.

This week's rise in the number of cases, particularly those attributed to local transmission, indicates that the country is beginning to enter Stage 3, according to the statement.

The society said it has been trying to alert agencies involved of the need for preparations. "And though there is a degree of response, this is still not enough to deal with this major health crisis," according to the official statement.

In Stage 3 -- the highest of an outbreak, all state and private hospitals must identify all patients with severe Covid-19 infections and isolate them in hospitals for treatment to cut the rate of transmission, the society said.

The society also took aim at government agencies responsible for combating the virus: "The virus outbreak has shown that state mechanisms designed to respond to national crises are always one step behind.

"But this does not dampen the spirit of medical professionals who will not surrender to these tiny enemies. We will not bow to those in high places who lack expertise and do not understand how we work. Now is the time for us to prepare for war even if there are no efficient weapons or decisive commanders," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Tares Krassanairawiwong, director-general of the Health Service Support Department, said that the department had issued an order, effective from March 5, prohibiting private hospitals from turning away emergency cases of Covid-19 infection.

If it is necessary to refer patients to other hospitals, they must ensure referrals are arranged properly and must not let patients travel to seek treatment elsewhere themselves, Dr Tares said.

Sukhum Kanchanapimai, permanent secretary for public health, also stressed the need for China to get back to its normal production of medical tools, especially surgical masks and other necessary medical items to fight against the epidemic.

He said the Thai government has already asked for its support in sending 180 million surgical masks, one million N95 medical masks and one million protective medical uniforms.

He also said that all hospitals under the ministry's responsibility will receive N95 medical masks and other necessary protective uniforms today, adding that the government will provide full support to all medical staff fighting against the disease, including extra payments for medical staff.

Despite the increasing number of confirmed cases, Dr Sukhum said the outbreak is still only at the second stage domestically.

Stage 2 means the spread of Covid-19 is still limited and mostly confined to overseas returnees, foreigners from the affected countries and those in close contact with either group.

There are only two cases where the ministry can't point to a cause of infection, said Dr Sukhum.

According to the Isara News Agency, the emergency operation centre under the Disease Control Department has compiled a report which suggests that Thailand remains unlikely to enter Stage 3 as the existing measures can still theoretically control the spread of the virus.

However, the agency quoted the report urging that social distancing, particularly a ban on mass gatherings, must be implemented in eight high-risk provinces, including Bangkok, this month.

If no proactive measures are put in place, the report warned that infections may reach a point where they could no longer be controlled and the number of infected patients would rise quickly and could reach 2,250 by May, according to projections included in the report.

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