BANGKOK (AFP) – As cases of Covid-19 increase in Thailand, some Buddhist monks don personal protective equipment over their distinctive robes, distribute oxygen cylinders, take nasal samples to facilitate testing and even help transport the dead to crematoriums.
Thailand is struggling to contain its latest outbreak fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, leaving health services stretched and further damaging a struggling economy.
“There are a lot of Thais who are still ignored by the public health system,” Mahapromphong, 33, deputy abbot of the Suthi Wararam temple in the Thai capital, told Agence France-Presse. “We take care of everyone we meet.”
Since July 21, he has been working in the poorest neighborhoods of Bangkok, distributing oxygen cylinders, food and medical supplies to the needy, and taking samples for testing.
Monks are highly respected in the Buddhist kingdom, and they were inundated with donations once the news got out, he added.
He learned how to take nasal swabs from doctors and nurses working in his temple, which also serves as an isolation center for those infected with the virus.
A man winced when Mahapromphong removed the swab and placed the sample in a plastic jar.
“Prevention is better than cure,” the man said with tears in his eyes.
Mahapromphong told AFP: “Monks can live because we rely on people’s donations. 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 Chin Wararam Worawiharn temple, helps with the darker task of taking the bodies to the crematorium.
“I am ready to take the risk here,” he said. “If I contract the virus, then I am ready to accept it without any regret.”
Thailand has reported more than 597,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 4,800 deaths.
The bulk of the new infections have been detected since April, when the latest wave was triggered by a cluster in an upscale nightlife district of Bangkok frequented by politically connected people.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the pandemic, from accusations of mismanagement of vaccines to 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 in mind that I would do something like this when I was ordered,” he said. “But in a situation like this everyone needs a helping hand and I’m proud to be here.”