Monks in Thailand don protective gear to help as Covid-19 cases surge

Buddhist monks disinfecting themselves after performing cremation duties for coronavirus victims in Bangkok on July 30, 2021.
Buddhist monks disinfecting themselves after performing cremation duties for coronavirus victims in Bangkok on July 30, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - As Covid-19 cases surge in Thailand, 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 to carry the dead to the crematoriums.

Thailand is struggling to contain its latest outbreak fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant, 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," Mahapromphong, 33, deputy abbot of Suthi Wararam Temple in the Thai capital, told Agence France-Presse. "We take care of everyone we come across."

Since July 21, he has been working in Bangkok's poorer neighbourhoods, 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, he added.

He learnt how to do nasal swabs from the doctors and nurses working in his temple, which doubles as an isolation centre 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.

Mahapromphong told AFP: "Monks are able to live because we rely on people's donation. 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 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 coronavirus cases and over 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.

Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha's administration has been roundly criticised for its handling of the pandemic, from accusations of vaccine mismanagement to the 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," he said. "But with a situation like this, everybody needs a helping hand and I'm proud to be here."