Thailand sees a run on hospitals as Covid-19 cases linked to entertainment venues are reported

Parking space turned into a temporary swap area at a Bangkok hospital. (photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

People who visited seven bars and pubs in Bangkok in March have been told to urgently seek coronavirus tests after a new cluster of infections was identified. As a result, all coronavirus test outlets at both public and private hospitals have seen an influx of people worried that they too might have contracted the virus.

The Disease Control Department found 40 people working at the entertainment venues had been infected with Covid-19 between March 25-27 and advised patrons of the seven venues to contact health officials. The seven are Krystal Club on Thonglor 25 in Soi Thong Lor; Baan Phahol Café and Bar in the Chatuchak area; Ekkamai Beer House in Ekkamai area; Barbarbar in Soi Thong Lor, Dollar Bangkok, and The Cassette Music Bar and Pub Dirty in the Ekkamai area.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the venues are popular with bar-hoppers, meaning that some of the patrons visited more than one of the pubs on the same night. In addition, Pub Dirty shares restrooms and other facilities with other pub/bars and so the number of people requiring a Covid-19 test has continued to grow.

Many pubgoers responded to the call and rushed to get the PCR tests with the result that both public and private hospitals became overloaded. And, of course, when someone tests positive, his/her work colleagues or family members also have to go for a test and thus the demand for RT-PCR tests has exceeded the capacity of the hospitals.

Twenty-five-year-old first jobber Kaew (real name withheld) tried to get a queue number for a test at a private hospital near her home in Suan Luang district on 8 April, as her friend, who went to a pub, though not one of the seven listed, had tested positive. After trying for a few hours, she came to the conclusion it was impossible to find a place in the line quickly, even though everyone has to pay between 3,000 baht and 7,000 baht for a RT-PCR test. [Infected persons will be reimbursed by the government later].

Even calling a hospital proved difficult as all the numbers were engaged and when she did get through, she would get a recorded message telling her that no operator was available to take her call at the moment. And when she did eventually get someone on the line, the answer was that the hospital couldn’t provide any more tests that day.

“There are 50 people waiting so we have to close the queue for the tests now,” the operator at a hospital near Kaew’s home told her.

She tried another hospital on Ramkhamheang Road that provided a drive-through test but the result was the same. The service, normally available until 8pm, closed at 6pm because too many people were waiting in line. The hospital told Kaew that she would have to book a test for the next day, and that should be done on the website after 7pm.  She followed the advice and when the booking came up on the hospital’s website, she reserved the test and was given a timeslot of 3pm on April 8.

Drive-through Covid swap test at a Bangkok hospital. (photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

Feeling that April 8 was too late, she went to the hospital near her home early the following morning to try her luck. Explaining she had been in direct contact with an infected person who had visited a Thonglor pub, she was sent to a temporary space for coronavirus testing in the carpark. At 8.30am, the service had not yet started and there were already more than 30 people waiting and no formal queue. While she was waiting her friend texted her and recommended she try a hospital on Srinakarin Road instead because the queue was not long for a person like her who would be considered as high risk.

Worried and frustrated, she took the advice and went to the hospital where her colleague was being checked. While on her way, she tried to phone the hospital but no one picked up her call.  On arriving, she told the security guard that she had come for a Covid test only to be told that she should call and book a drive-through test. She said she couldn’t get through and would instead come for a routine check-up.

Once inside, she played her “high-risk” card and they sent her to the test area where her friend was also still waiting. The whole process – the PCR test and meeting a physician – took about three hours. The test result was expected in a day or two, she was told.

The search for a test would have been even worse had she tried a public hospital as evidenced by a message that the hospital where she had booked a drive-through test at 3pm was closing down its service.

“We are stopping testing until further notice,” the hospital’s announcement read.

Another hospital on Sukhumvit Road also reported that they could no longer take appointments for tests as they had run out of the testing kits. A high-end hospital near Soi Nana announced that they were only accepting people who needed the PCR tests to go abroad.

So, a word to the wise: If you need a coronavirus test in Bangkok, book early and expect to get tested a day or two days later. Those who have time and are directly linked to the seven venues can go and have free tests at mobile testing vans donated by HM the King.

Those who are not really at risk can opt to self-quarantine for 7 or 14 days. And people who are just worried and frustrated can call the hotline 1422 and assess their risk before booking a swab.

by Veena Thoopkrajae

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