In Thailand, an army of volunteers fights coronavirus

In this photo taken on Aug 4, 2021, Mr Phrompong Kaino gets ready to perform Covid-19 swab tests in a community near his temple in Bangkok.
PHOTO: Reuters

BANGKOK - Monk Phrompong Kaino, 33, works around the clock providing free Covid-19 swab tests for vulnerable people in high-risk Bangkok communities, part of a project by his temple that has reached more than 2,000 people in just over a month.

He is one of thousands of ordinary people who have pitched in to try to help Thailand get out of its worst coronavirus crisis to date, which has strained hospitals and health services in the capital Bangkok.

One in five of those tested by the project his temple runs were positive for Covid-19 and were offered care at the temple in community isolation, or found hospital beds.

"Medical teams cannot meet the demand," Mr Phrompong said. "No matter if they are Buddhist, Christian or Muslim communities, we are all human beings and citizens who deserve to get treated fairly and immediately."

Thailand is on course to pass the one million mark in coronavirus cases this week, with 7,700 deaths so far, including a record 239 on Tuesday (Aug 17).

Vaccination rates are low due to supply shortages and temples are inundated with bodies to cremate.

Mr Pairuch Sudtoop is a volunteer for a foundation funded by donations that has provided free undertaking and cremation services for about 350 people in recent months.

"The nation is in crisis now, I've never seen Thais suffer this much," Mr Pairuch said.

He volunteers on top of his job as a business owner and church worker. "As the last person at the gate between the human world and the afterlife, it's hard to control our emotions not to be sad."

The government has hotlines for infected people to call for help, but has been criticised for failing to cope with a surge in demand.

A group of aerospace engineers has created a platform to connect volunteers with infected people needing assistance, tracking their locations and waiting times. It also provides information like available community isolation centres and places to refill oxygen tanks.

In this photo taken on Aug 4, 2021, Mr Phrompong Kaino performs Covid-19 testing in a community near his temple in Bangkok.
PHOTO: Reuters

Volunteer developer Wasanchai Vongsantivanich points to red dots on a screen showing a Bangkok map and those awaiting help.

"You can see the situation is pretty bad," he said, adding 9,000 volunteers signed up in the first three weeks. "They are just trying to help people in the community."