A man in a Hazmat suite talks with a nurse at a makeshift screening facility outside Rajadamnern boxing stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, March 19, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe

At least 102 healthcare workers in Thailand have been infected with Covid-19, sending their hospitals into partial lockdown and suspending most services for up to 14 days. With grim statistics like these, it is clear bolder steps are urgently needed to protect medical personnel during the outbreak.

It has been over 14 weeks since Thailand recorded its first Covid-19 case. Cases in the country have now jumped to approximately 2,643, with 43 deaths, which is likely an undercount. 

The Thai government should ensure all staff at all medical facilities have adequate personal protection. For healthcare workers, the reality has been very different. Nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel are struggling with a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is essential to keep them safe. Because new supplies haven’t arrived on time, PPE is rationed in many hospitals, requiring healthcare providers to work with “do it yourself” protection gear they procure or make themselves. 

The difficulty caused by a global shortage of PPE has been exacerbated by black-market profiteering, hoarding, and corruption, including by Thai officials.

Frontline healthcare workers in Thailand are working punishing schedules and facing risks of infection and burnout. But their voices and concerns have been suppressed. Whistleblowers in Thailand’s public health sector and online journalists face retaliatory “anti-fake news” lawsuits and intimidation from authorities after they either criticized the government’s response to the outbreak or reported essential medical supplies were not sufficiently available. Officials have also threatened some medical personnel with disciplinary action, including termination of employment contracts and revocation of their licenses, for speaking out about the serious shortage of essential supplies in hospitals.

Government cover-ups and restrictions on information about inadequate PPE and others supplies to protect medical personnel are disastrous in the face of the outbreak. 

If hospital staff are getting sick and are unable to work, efforts to curb the Covid-19 pandemic will be severely undermined. The top priority of the Thai government during this crisis should be to ensure that courageous healthcare workers who are risking their lives to treat patients are properly equipped to safely carry out their duties.