Thais Furious With Govt After Possible COVID-19 Victims Found Dead in Streets

Nontarat Phaicharoen
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Thais Furious With Govt After Possible COVID-19 Victims Found Dead in Streets Health workers prepare to take away the body of a person who died on the street, possibly of COVID-19, in Bangkok, July 20, 2021.
[Sarumon Nornrit/BenarNews]

Images of the bodies of at least two suspected coronavirus victims who were found dead in Bangkok streets caused an uproar on social media in Thailand on Wednesday.

Many in the Southeast Asian nation were already upset over what they said were huge blunders in Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and his government’s vaccine procurement plan.

Now, they’re angry that people are dying on the streets of the Thai capital as it appears the health-care system is straining under the pressure of record new COVID-19 cases, which stem from a third wave of infections that began April 1.

A Thai association of doctors on Wednesday openly called for Prayuth – a former army chief and junta leader – to resign. Separately, Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former head of the National Human Rights Commission, accused the PM and his government of being uncaring.

“This is a totalitarian government that claims it is democratic but suppresses the people,” Angkhana wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

“The government does not listen to the voice of the people and does not accept public participation. It is not sympathetic and it is cold-blooded enough to see people die without dignity in the middle of the street because of lack of access to health services.”

The dead bodies were left on the streets for almost all of Tuesday, according to police.

Health workers retrieved the bodies only around 10 p.m. Tuesday, and photographs of their removal from the street were widely circulated through the night and on Wednesday on social media.

One of the dead persons, a homeless man, was found to have had pneumonia, according to a doctor who performed an initial autopsy at the scene, said Police Maj. Gen. Piya Tawichai, the deputy spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Bureau. The Bangkok Post newspaper said later that tests found the man had died of the virus.

COVID-19 can cause lung complications such as pneumonia and, in the most severe cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, according to Johns Hopkins University.

No details were released about the second person who was found dead in the streets.

Somjit Somjai, a 36-year-old businessman, was in shock seeing the dead bodies’ photographs.

“I never thought that one day we would see men dead on the street like that in our country,” Somjit told BenarNews.

“It’s sad. This business is bad. Our society has gone bad. Please bring in vaccines.” 


Two people infected with COVID-19, who could not find a hospital to treat them, sit on the street as they wait for health officials to help them, in Bangkok, July 21, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon /BenarNews]

On Wednesday, Thailand logged a record 13,002 new infections, bringing the total caseload to 439,477. With 108 new virus-related deaths pandemic fatalities rose to 3,610.

Only 5.2 percent of the 66.1 million population of Thailand is fully vaccinated – 17 percent have had at least one shot.

Dr. Santi Kijwattanapaibul, who leads the Public Health Association, said a radical shift in policy was needed – fast – and Prayuth was not capable of that job.

“[Prayuth), please quit and let someone else do the job. The situation has spun out of control ….it is a public health failure,” Santi told BenarNews.

“What the government should do is to find or borrow vaccines from abroad, inoculate frontline workers and at-risk groups, impose a full lockdown, identify and treat infected people.”

The Thai PM and his government have been criticized for sluggishness in acquiring vaccines and depending on the supply of just two drug makers’ jabs – the China-made Sinovac shots and AstraZeneca shots manufactured by a local company, Siam Bioscience, which is owned by the Thai king.

AstraZeneca, too, pointed out to the government that health officials had last September estimated they required only 3 million doses per month from the company.

Still, AstraZeneca should be able to supply double that amount, it said in a letter to the government last month, according to the Thai Isra news agency, which first reported about the correspondence.

The company also noted in the letter that Thailand could procure more doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program of WHO. Previously, the public health minister said Thailand was not qualified to join COVAX because it was not a low-income country.

Now, however, Thailand is considering joining COVAX, said Dr. Nakorn Premsri, the director of the National Vaccine Institute on Wednesday.

Nakorn apologized to the Thai people as well, for the shortfall in vaccines.

“We couldn’t acquire enough vaccines on time because of the limitations. I have to apologize, though we’ve tried our best,” Nakorn said during an online press briefing.


An anti-government activist protests in front of a placard lampooning Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, in Bangkok, July 18, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

Meanwhile, there was no comment from Prayuth, either on the dead bodies or vaccines, as of Wednesday night, although he did speak to a group of the country’s top businesspersons about what the government was doing to fix the health nightmare.

“Our most important mission is to do by all mean necessary to curb domestic COVID spread by speeding up vaccine acquisition and inoculation,” he said.

Prayuth, who led a military coup that toppled an elected government in May 2014, has been under siege since pro-democracy protests began in July 2020. Demonstrators have called on the PM to step down, the constitution to be updated and the monarchy to be reformed.

On Sunday, these protesters added an additional demand – a mandatory vaccination policy.

More than 1,000 young people and members of the Public Health Association marched from Bangkok’s Victory Monument toward Government House in defiance of an emergency. They braved a 3,000-strong riot-police contingent, which used water cannons and rubber bullets on them.

Angkhana, formerly of the National Human Rights Commission, said the police were wrong to use water cannons and rubber bullets on the protesters.

“The public rally in front of Government House on July 18 was a demonstration asking for the government’s accountability for people suffering a serious loss of income due to illness and death,” she wrote on Facebook.

“Inaccessibility of medical care has led to the deaths of many people. This is mainly due to the inaccessibility of vaccines that are effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.”

Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok and Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.


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