Thailand sends Covid patients home on trains as virus cases and deaths mount in the capital

A health worker with protective gear walks inside a carriage as the train prepares to carry a group of Covid-19 patients to their hometowns, at Rangsit station in Pathum Thani province, Thailand, on July 27.

Bangkok (CNN)Thai citizens seeking Covid-19 treatment in Bangkok are being returned to their hometowns by train, in an effort to alleviate the burden on the capital's medical system.

Thailand is struggling to contain its worst Covid-19 wave of the pandemic, with hospitals in Bangkok becoming overwhelmed by a surge in cases and demand for beds greatly outstripping capacity.
On Tuesday, a train carrying 135 migrant workers with mild or no Covid symptoms left Bangkok for the country's northeastern provinces, Thailand's Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a Facebook post. The train was set to drop patients off in seven provinces, where they will be picked up by a team of doctors and nurses, and sent for isolation and treatment.
    "There should be no fear of the spread of Covid-19 since we have a good system from the beginning taking them from their accommodation to their destinations," Anutin said. "You should be confident it will be a 'sealed route'."
      A Covid-19 patient boards a train at Rangsit station on the outskirts of Bangkok to head to her hometown on July 27.
      On Wednesday, the Southeast Asian nation reported 16,533 Covid-19 cases -- its highest single-day number of new infections -- and 133 new deaths, according to the country's Covid task force CCSA. In total, there have been 543,361 confirmed infections and 4,397 fatalities from the virus, the CCSA said.
      Last week, there was public outcry after several bodies were found dead on the streets and left lying on the road for hours before an ambulance retrieved them. The deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Maj. Gen. Piya Tawichai, told CNN that of the four bodies recovered, at least two were confirmed to have Covid-19.
      "There were delays in retrieving bodies from the street as rescue workers had to take extra steps to deal with suspected Covid-19 cases. I have to admit that there's a lot of work," Piya said.
        Chonlada U-tarasai, niece of one of the deceased who was a motorbike taxi driver, said she was "speechless" when she saw the images on social media.
        "How has Thailand come to this point?" she asked. "I was devastated because this happened to my own family, after I had seen people dropped dead on the street. It was a horrific picture to see, and it should not happen to any families."
        With rising cases and deaths spurred by new variants, including the Delta strain first identified in India, and amid sluggish vaccine rates, authorities are racing to lessen the burden on the health care system.
        In the capital, which has suffered the brunt of new cases, authorities plan to convert 15 passenger train carriages into a community isolation facility for Covid-19 patients waiting for hospital beds, Bangkok's governor Aswin Kwanmuang said on Tuesday.
        The converted train carriages will hold 240 beds and are expected to be operational from Friday.
        "Adjustment is needed inside the cars, mosquito nets will be installed at windows, and water and electricity system will be installed. Toilets will be built outside the cars," Aswin said in a Facebook post.
        Workers prepare mattresses and blankets for some 1,800 cardboard beds at a Covid-19 field hospital inside a warehouse at the Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok on July 27.
        Meanwhile, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has announced more community isolation facilities will be set up in each of the capital's 50 districts to receive Covid-19 patients who cannot isolate at home. Sports stadiums, temples and private buildings have also been turned into coronavirus isolation wards.
        The rush comes as Thai health officials said demand for hospital beds in Bangkok is three times higher than current capacity because of the surge in Covid-19 cases.
        Somsak Akkasilp, director-general to the Public Health Ministry's medical service, warned that emergency rooms across Bangkok were refusing to admit new patients because they have run out of room, despite many hospita