The Public Health Ministry has reacted to the spike in Covid-19 infections by drawing up a plan to allow patients with less serious symptoms to self-quarantine at home to save hospital beds for the most serious cases.
Under the home isolation plan unveiled yesterday, hospitals may consider allowing Covid-19 patients with no symptoms to recover at home, albeit with a number of conditions.
Hospitals will be required to follow a set of criteria when considering Covid-19 patients to self-quarantine -- it is only recommended if the patients do not develop other symptoms and they would be required to self-quarantine for a full month.
The contingency plan is in response to growing concerns that hospital beds are filling up fast in the current third wave of the pandemic, and that swift action must be taken in case the situation worsens.
The Public Health Ministry was quick to point out last night that even though the home isolation system was under consideration, it is not yet necessary because about 3,000 beds were still available. So, it will not be implement this time.
Department of Medical Services (DMS) director-general Somsak Akksilp said fears over the current situation related more to long waits for hospital beds rather than a shortage of beds and said coordinated efforts were already being made to address the issue.
Dr Somsak said hospitalisation was still compulsory for all Covid-19 patients but that mild and asymptomatic cases, known as "Green" cases, could be sent to field hospitals and so-called "hospitels".
"We're making preparations for the home isolation programme but it is not yet implemented," he said.
He said all hospitals under the ministry's supervision were being instructed to set aside ICU beds as more severe cases were anticipated this week. The DMS is working closely with medical schools in the management of ICU beds.
"We have a total of 9,317 beds, an increase from 6,000-7,000 beds. About 3,000 beds are still available," he said.
Dr Somsak said work is also under way to increase the number of Covid-19 patient transport vehicles across the country to 100, noting that the limited capacity to transport infected patients had also contributed to long waits over the past week.
Suksan Kittisupakorn, director of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's Medical Service Department, said it had 2,756 beds to accommodate Covid-19 patients and nearly 3,000 more beds were being added.
Under the home isolation plan, Covid-19 patients must be asymptomatic, under 40 years old and not be categorised as obese and/or have other underlying health problems, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, coronary artery disease, stroke, or other diseases doctors rule as unsafe for self-care at home. They must also provide consent to home isolation and, if they live in condominium units or dormitories, the building supervisors must also grant permission.
Hospitals would be required to check on those patients on a regular basis for 14 days and hospitalise them if their symptoms deteriorate. Move Forward Party MP Wayo Asvarungruang on Monday expressed his support for the home isolation plan, but called on the government to do more to educate the public about it.
Saowalak Thongkuay, member of Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said the government should set aside 15% of field hospital beds for people with disabilities and vulnerable groups. She said the facilities should also be designed to handle the special needs of this group of people. "People with visual or audio problems need communication aids. This is not a privilege," she said.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Monday reported three more Covid-19 fatalities and 1,394 new infections, raising the total of deaths to 104 and 43,742 cases since the start of the pandemic in January last year.
Monday's caseload was significantly lower than the record-high 1,767 new cases registered on Sunday but it remains to be seen if this is the start of a downward trend.
The first fatality was a 56-year-old man in Buri Ram's Prakhon Chai district, who had worked at a bar near Nana Plaza in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok before returning to his home province during the Songkran holiday.
Records show that an 84-year-old woman who died on Friday had been in contact with her grandson who worked at a nightspot on Ratchadaphisek Road and was infected with the virus.
The third fatality was a woman, 61, who died on Sunday after testing positive for the virus at a hospital in Prachuap Khiri Khan's Hua Hin district. It was the first time in three days that the number had dropped below the 1,500 mark.
Bangkok's new cases dropped to 293 from 346 on Saturday, while new transmissions in Chon Buri plunged to 98 from 229. In Chiang Mai, however, infections rose from 164 to 197.