Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Thursday gave an assurance the country's public health system will not collapse despite the number of hospital beds and health personnel being at critically low levels amid soaring new Covid-19 cases.
"The ministry will not allow the public health system to collapse. No one should use this term. We must work together to improve the situation. If necessary, all public health resources and personnel must be mobilised nationwide," Mr Anutin said.
His assurance came after several senior doctors said the Covid-19 outbreak situation was critical with some suggesting the government should impose a lockdown in the capital for seven days.
Dr Yuwares Sittichanbuncha, head of the emergency medicine division at Ramathibodi Hospital, posted on Facebook that: "ICU [intensive care unit] beds are fully occupied. We have to begin to choose who will go on them, and who shouldn't. Don't let your guard down. Precautions are always important."
Chulalongkorn University's Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases chief, Dr Thiravat Hemachudha, announced on Facebook on Thursday that Chulalongkorn General Hospital had suspended Covid-19 testing for four days from Sunday because of bed and medical personnel shortages.
He said numerous patients came to the hospital after their condition deteriorated since they had been refused admission at other hospitals due to bed and staff shortages there too.
"Passive screening, which has been implemented [by the government] since last year, has been proven not to work and it cannot prevent infection outbreaks," Dr Thiravat said.
Responding to the suggestion that Bangkok be locked down for seven days, Mr Anutin said the proposal was worth listening to, but it must be weighed up carefully.
Mr Anutin insisted he had not received reports that some hospitals have stopped testing for Covid-19 due to bed shortages even though the news has gone viral on social media.
Dr Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Department of Medical Services, said there were only 23 beds at state hospitals left for Covid-19 patients suffering severe symptoms.
The situation is expected to worsen if the number of new cases continues to soar at the current rate, he said.
He said the Public Health Ministry is trying to increase the number of beds for patients with less severe symptoms and the 14-day treatment period at hospitals may be changed to 10 days, after which they would self-isolate at home.
The change means the number of beds will increase by 40% and this measure will apply to so-called green, or those with mild or no symptoms first, Dr Somsak said.
This is because the number of beds for green patients at state hospitals is stretched almost to the limit while there are about 1,000 beds at private hospitals, he said.
There were 31 Covid-19 fatalities and 4,108 new cases over the past 24 hours across the country. Of the total number of coronavirus cases, 229 of them were prison inmates.
Since April 1, when the third wave of Covid-19 began, there have been 203,784 Covid-19 patients, 163,929 of whom have recovered.
Apisamai Srirangson, assistant spokeswoman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), said that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the CCSA director, had instructed all agencies involved to help Bangkok and the surrounding provinces to increase the number of beds, particularly for groups of patients with more severe symptoms.
In light of this, the Public Health Ministry's emergency operation centre agreed that Bang Khun Thian Geriatric Hospital and Ratchaphiphat Hospital will be upgraded to accommodate patients with severe symptoms, Dr Apisamai said.
The ministry will also ask Mongkutwattana Hospital and Thon Buri Hospital to provide accommodation for severe cases, she said, adding that Thammasat University Hospital, Ramathibodi Hospital and Vajira Hospital will also arrange for beds for more than 50 patients this month.