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Not the COVID-19 News

Some stories that probably won’t be appearing in the next few weeks.

Equitable Access to Medical Resources Agreed

The Ministry of Public Health has announced an agreement with private hospitals for sharing medical resources to ensure equal access during the corona virus pandemic.

With the nation’s medical services under severe strain, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health has given details of an MoU between the Ministry and the Private Hospital Association of Thailand which will allow all medical facilities, equipment, supplies and personnel to be pooled and allocated by the Ministry to fight the spread of COVID-19.

ICUs in all hospitals, both public and private, will come under the control of the Ministry and will be made available to any patient who needs them, for whatever illness, according to priorities set out by a panel of medical experts.

Equipment to meet the corona virus emergency, such as ventilators, can be temporarily requisitioned from under-used facilities or medical supply companies and allocated where most needed.  Supplies and medical personnel may also be re-allocated to those areas most in need.

The president of the Private Hospital Association commented that the Association and the private hospitals involved are committed to working with the government to ensure equitable access to healthcare for all those infected by the corona virus, regardless of their financial or social status. 

‘Earlier in the emergency, some of our members were criticized for refusing to admit COVID-19 patients or for charging exorbitant fees for testing.  We have since reviewed our understanding of the Hippocratic Oath and come to the conclusion that the primary function of all healthcare facilities is to help those in medical need,’ said the president.

‘We hope that after the emergency has passed, we can continue to reform so as to eliminate the gross inequalities in access to healthcare between rich and poor and between cities and rural areas,’ the president continued.

Government to Support but not Control Mutual Help Groups

Speaking from Government House, a spokesperson said that the government fully supported the initiatives taken by a large number of local mutual help groups but will not attempt to control them.

Observers have been surprised at the thousands of groups that have been formed around the country in the face of the corona virus epidemic.  These groups seek out persons affected by the disease, whether medically, financially or even emotionally, and offer support.

These groups, mostly operating through social media platforms, are meeting a wide range of needs, such as organizing hospital visits, at-home testing services, doing the shopping, or even just chatting to people who have been emotionally affected by the disease.  The media have carried a large number of heart-warming stories of their valuable work.

The spokesperson commented that the government recognizes that these groups have been set up without official support as a spontaneous gesture of solidarity among Thai citizens.  These groups are welcome to coordinate with government agencies and seek their support when needed, but the government bureaucracy has been instructed to take no measures to draft regulations, operate a registration system or institute any other control measures.

‘The government would like to publicly encourage citizens in areas not yet served by such groups to come together in a spirit of mutual assistance,’ said the spokesperson.  ‘We have noticed that rural areas and low-income parts of the cities seem to be well-served.  But middle-class and high-income areas seem more reluctant to donate their personal time and resources to helping their fellow citizens.’

Asked if the government itself could set an example, the spokesperson noted that some government ministers had made contributions in their own way.  One minister had offered to raffle a set of luxury watches with the proceeds going to fight the disease; another minister had voluntarily enrolled in anti-discrimination sensitivity training; and all ministerial limousines had been temporarily re-fitted as emergency ambulances.

Corona Virus ‘Could Revolutionize System of Employment’ – NESDB Expert

The government has the opportunity to revolutionize the system of employment in the country as a result of the disruption caused by the corona virus, according to an expert at the National Economic and Social Development Board.

When the first effects of the corona virus were felt in the economy, said the expert, the government was caught unawares by the large number of people who lost their jobs, especially those working in tourism, transport and entertainment. 

‘Some far-sighted individuals, however, saw an opportunity in the crisis,’ said the expert, and realized that, for example, taxi-drivers and bus-drivers could be employed delivering medical supplies to hospitals and people undergoing self-quarantine.  Workers in the hospitality business could also, with a minimum of training, help with hospital admissions and patient care.

‘We solved part of the unemployment problem and at the same time helped in the fight against COVID-19,’ said the expert.  ‘The problem was how to pay these people.’

The expert asked not to be named because he is just one member of a group of progressive bureaucrats, academics and NGO workers who are collaborating to devise solutions to these problems.  He said that his group eventually persuaded the government to foot the wage bill from the emergency funds allocated to fight the epidemic.

They then persuaded the government to extend this programme to cover people required by corona virus regulations to self-quarantine for 14 days.  While some professionals can work from home, thousands of workers can’t, especially low-wage earners.  And while they are forced to stay at home, they have no income.

‘It seemed obvious that this would meet far more pressing economic needs than, for example, bailing out airlines, which eventually will have to be phased out anyway because of the climate crisis,’ the expert explained.

Having got the government used to the idea of paying a large number of people who were not government bureaucrats, the expert’s pressure group has been encouraging the idea of Universal Basic Income, where the state guarantees a minimum payment to all citizens, whether employed or not. 

‘The current government does not like it, even when they understand it, which most of them don’t,’ said the NESDB official.  ‘But UBI is an idea whose time will come, whatever these dinosaurs think.  Taxi-drivers may be finding it hard to make a living when the country is in lock-down, but that’s nothing to what will happen when driverless vehicles become the norm in a few years.

‘It’s just that the corona virus has presented us with an opportunity to change the structure of the economy for the better.  We hope that the government and the small coterie of capitalists that control it will seize this opportunity.’