A cargo warehouse at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport has been turned into an 1,800-bed field hospital, as the country struggles with its most severe outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
Hospitals in the capital Bangkok, where the outbreak concentrated, have been overwhelmed by patients, and forced to turn people away. On Thursday, the country reported a record 17,669 deaths and 165 deaths.
Rienthong Nanna, director of Mongkutwattana Hospital, told Reuters on Wednesday that the field hospital was designed for patients with moderate symptoms.
“But if patients’ conditions deteriorate, they will be moved to our other field hospital called Pitak Rachan (Protect the King) Field Hospital,” said Rienthong, a retired major-general and an ultra-royalist leader.
He added that more field hospitals would be needed as cases rise.
Thailand’s caseload has risen from fewer than 30,000 infections at the beginning of April, to more than 540,000. Public health experts have warned that limited testing means the statistics are likely an underestimate.
The government is facing growing anger over its response to the pandemic, including over its vaccination programme, which critics say has been too slow and lacking in transparency.
Just over 5% of the Thai population is fully vaccinated.
The Thai government has been accused of relying too heavily on AstraZeneca produced domestically by Siam Bioscience, a royal owned company that has not previously supplied vaccines. A prominent opposition politician who criticised the arrangement earlier this year was subsequently accused of breaching the country’s strict lese majesty law, which can lead to 15 years in prison.
The government has also warned that it will prosecute individuals and media who spread inaccurate news, and has invoked emergency measures that outlaw sharing news that could cause misunderstanding, or that could incite fear in the public.
Six major journalist associations in Thailand have condemned the move, stating that it revealed “an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public.”
The teenage rapper Milli was recently charge for criticising the Thai government’s management of the pandemic on social media.