So homespun heroes like Ekapob and his group – buying equipment and supplies with public donations – are an essential safety net, gaining crucial time for both patients and a health care system under severe strain. Thailand’s predicament is stark. There are now around 15,000 new confirmed cases per day and rising. In Bangkok alone, 20,000 people are waiting for a hospital bed. There’s another call: an elderly woman with COVID-19 symptoms. But she’s not fit to wait in line for hours at an overwhelmed test center, so for the moment she’s stuck where she is.
It’s not long before they’re in action: Malee, a COVID-19 positive woman whose breathing has suddenly worsened. The group, wearing personal protective equipment, delivers oxygen and much-needed reassurance to Malee and her husband, an army officer who also has the virus. “We realize how hard working and how tired doctors and nurses are,” says the 38-year-old businessman. “What we are trying to do today is to help relieve some of the burden. Before, all cases must go to the hospital, so today there are no hospital beds. So we volunteer to help out.”
“I lost hope even with the army. I called doctors at field hospitals. All they told me to do was to send information, just send information,” says Worawit Srisang. “I got the same answers everywhere. At least these guys visit us in person. What the patient needs is a chance to see a doctor, not just send information.” His volunteer group, Samai Will Survive, has been working around the clock, responding to about a hundred SOS calls daily from desperate COVID-19 patients unable to get the help they need.
There’s a raging debate in Thailand now over the national vaccination roll-out. Many Thais are angry over the slow pace and a perceived lack of accountability for the fact that only around 5% of the population currently is fully protected. The volunteers see the consequences almost every night. After a check, his team members decide she’s not in imminent danger. They hook her up with oxygen, then it’s back into the night and on to the next case.
It’s very likely she has COVID-19. All her family members have already tested positive. “Grandma can’t get tested, so she lies sick in bed. If we want to send her to the hospital, they will ask for her test result. So we are back in a circle, because we would ask them to do the test,” Ekapob says, looking in through the window.
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