As COVID-19 cases in Thailand surge, some Buddhist monks are donning personal protective equipment over their distinctive robes, delivering oxygen cylinders, taking nasal samples to help with testing and even helping carry the dead to crematoriums.
Thailand is struggling to contain its latest outbreak fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, leaving healthcare services stretched and further damaging a battered economy.
“There are a lot of Thais who are still ignored by the public health system,” said 33-year-old Mahapromphong, the deputy abbot of Wat Suthi Wararam in Bangkok. “We take care of everyone we come across.”
Since July 21 he has been working in Bangkok’s poorer neighborhoods, distributing oxygen tanks, food and medical supplies to the needy, as well as taking samples for testing.
Monks are highly respected in the Buddhist kingdom, and they were inundated with donations once word got out, Mahapromphong said.
He learned how to do nasal swabs from the doctors and nurses working in his temple, which doubles as an isolation center for those infected with the virus. One man winced as Mahapromphong removed the swab and deposited the sample in a plastic pot.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” the man said, his eyes watering.
“Monks are able to live because we rely on people’s donation,” Mahapromphong said. “So it’s time for us to give back to the people. At the very least, we could encourage them to keep fighting.”
Supornchaithammo, a monk at Wat Chin Wararam Worawiharn, helps with the grimmer task of taking bodies to the crematorium.
“I’m willing to take the risk here,” he said. “If I contract the virus then I’m ready to accept it without any regret.”
Thailand has reported more than 597,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 4,800 deaths.
The bulk of the new infections were detected since April, when the latest wave was sparked by a cluster at an upscale Bangkok nightlife district frequented by the politically connected.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s administration has been roundly criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, from accusations of vaccine mismanagement to a lack of government compensation for affected sectors.
Supornchaithammo said he never expected this to be his routine, but is happy to help.
“I didn’t have it in my head that I would be doing something like this when I was ordained, but with a situation like this, everybody needs a helping hand and I’m proud to be here,” he said.
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