BANGKOK (AP) – Thai authorities began transporting some people who tested positive for the coronavirus from Bangkok to their places of origin on Tuesday for isolation and treatment to ease the burden of the capital’s overwhelmed medical system.
A train carrying more than 100 patients and medical workers in full protective gear left the city to the northeast.
It will drop off patients in seven provinces, where they will be greeted by health officials and taken to hospitals.
Bangkok medical authorities said on Monday that all ICU beds for COVID-19 patients in public hospitals were full and some of the sick were being treated in emergency rooms. Officials said they have asked army doctors to help out in civilian hospitals.
“We will continue this service until there are no COVID-19 patients left who cannot get beds in Bangkok,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.
He said buses, vans and even planes could be deployed to send people back to the least affected provinces.
Thailand initially kept coronavirus cases under control, but outbreaks have erupted in recent months.
The government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha faces harsh criticism for its handling of a slow and fast-paced vaccination program fueled by the delta variant, amid reports of people dying on the streets or in their homes while awaiting treatment.
Of the total of nearly 500,000 confirmed cases from Thailand and more than 4,000 deaths, 137,263 cases and 2,176 deaths have been recorded in Bangkok.
Most of the 4,451 beds for COVID-19 patients in the city of about 15 million are occupied by people with little or no symptoms. Hospitals are beginning to urge these patients to isolate themselves at home or in community isolation centers.
The governor of Bangkok. Aswin Kwanmuang said the city government will coordinate with the State Railway to install 240 beds in 15 rail cars in a maintenance shed at the city’s huge Bang Sue station as a “pre-admission center” for coronavirus patients without symptom.
He visited the station Tuesday to inspect the cars. He said they should be ready for use on Friday.
The government said medical oxygen supplies are sufficient and manufacturers have been asked to make sure enough is available. But people with coronavirus who can’t find places to get treatment can’t always get supplemental oxygen.
Meanwhile, some temples in the devout Buddhist country have started offering free cremations as the death toll rises, the government said.