Handling Covid-19 cases in Chiang Mai

What to do and where to go if you think you have Covid-19

By | Tue 15 Sep 2020

If you suspect that you have fallen ill with the Covid-19, would you know where to go in Chiang Mai to get tested – or treated? Many expats here tell me that they don’t know. Until recently, I also would not have known, and so I made enquiries. This article seeks to address such queries.

Early on, during the spread of what has since become a terrible and deadly global pandemic, the authorities here in Thailand swiftly enacted strong but very-necessary measures to protect this country from it. Thankfully, the lockdowns, travel bans, curfews, prohibitions of mass gatherings, the border and airport closures – and many other careful measures – have all combined to very effectively arrest of the spread of the virus here. Thailand has fared comparatively rather well during this difficult period in terms of confirmed infection cases, with only some 3,475 cases, including 58 deaths at the time of writing. Many of these are imported cases. For a big country, this is one of the world’s lowest infection rates. Many other countries have fared far, far worse. Mercifully, there have been very few new cases here over these last three months. All-importantly, the virtual banning of foreign visitors has put an effective stop to imported cases, resulting also in very low numbers of local transmissions of this virus. But that satisfactory situation could all-too-easily change, and a second wave of infections spread through Thailand, if we relax our vigilance too soon.

Doctors at the well-known Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital, run as part of Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Medicine’s teaching hospital complex, recently received a Hero Award for their innovative flying doctor service. Other doctors at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Medicine recently put out an announcement thanking the local community here for their steadfast support in fighting this dreadful Covid-19 pandemic. But it is really those of us in the wider community who should thank them, and all their colleagues, for all that they have done, and all that they are preparing for, and all that are doing, in seeking to combat this dangerous global pandemic.

Sad though it is to have any cases at all, or any deaths, these comparatively low figures for infections confirmed in Thailand do prove the combined effectiveness of social distancing measures, travel bans, and imposed lockdowns. Chiang Mai province as a whole has seen about 41confirmed cases with only one recorded virus death. Of these, eight were initially received in the Maharaj Hospital, before being transferred to another hospital, and of whom seven recovered. The Maharaj Hospital has been designated as the place to take care of infected patients in the range of ‘’moderately to critically ill;’’ whereas the Chiang Mai Neurological Hospital is tasked with handling patients who are ‘’mildly to moderately’’ ill with the virus.

Of course, the almost complete cessation of international tourism to Thailand, though it has undoubtedly saved many lives, comes at a high economic cost. Tourism normally contributed about a quarter of Thailand’s GDP, and that figure is said to be around 50% in terms of local Chiang Mai businesses. Many local businesses, aligned to generate tourist spending, have been forced to close down for the duration; a duration which we still don’t know the length of. Indeed, many smaller enterprises, such as shops and smaller restaurants geared up specifically to attract tourists, are sadly going permanently out of business, with their former premises now open to let.

But that is a debate for another article.

I met with the Faculty of Medicine’s doctor/professor is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, and heard from her of the Maharaj Hospital’s gearing up to handle any number of future virus cases, and to treat patients who have it. Their ER is one of the first in this country to set up a negative air pressure (i.e. sealed) room next to the triage area, to contain arriving suspected virus-infected patients.

The hospital has also arranged 11 more negative air pressure isolation rooms for Covid 19 patients, and has an ample supply of ventilators available in case they are needed. The aim is obviously to prevent the spreading of this virus infection to other patients or to hospital staff.

It appears that some people who do indeed catch the virus, get through the disease with few – if any – noticeable symptoms. But they may be unknowingly spreading the infection wider in the community, all the while.

To add to the potential for confusion, several of the symptoms of this virus are very similar to (and may be mistaken as) the common cold or seasonal influenza. One of the key symptoms of Covid 19 is a loss of the sense of smell. Furthermore, after four or five days of the outbreak of the infection with an individual, some (but not all) patients will develop really serious breathing difficulties, and will need hospital treatment.

What should you do, if you think you may have caught this virus?

Best to get yourself along to the Maharaj Hospital emergency room, signposted as the Trauma Centre, on Suthep Road. Of course, you should wear a mask. There, at triage, they have reserved some special hospital trolleys which are enclosed, to transfer you without risk of infecting others, to their isolation testing and treatment rooms.

As a foreigner, you will be charged about 5,000 baht take the test there.

I also interviewed the professor/doctor who is the Director of the Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital, and he commented that travelling, including international travelling, will not really be safe again until we have an effective vaccine.

Meanwhile, he advised strictly maintaining the whole range of precautionary measures to arrest the further widening of this all-too easily-spread infectious disease. These include wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, covering the face when coughing and sneezing, keeping social distancing, frequent hand-washing and so on.

So, in the interests of avoiding having any more imported cases, long may this severe but necessary restriction of tourist travelling continue; difficult though that may be, both socially and economically. After all, a holiday is surely not worth risking lives to take?

This article has been prepared with support from the CMU’s Faculty of Medicine.