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The COVID outbreak and a culture of volunteerism in Thailand

Buddhist monks walk down the stairs of a temple that provides free cremation services for COVID-19 victims in the Pathum Thani province of Thailand. The country is again struggling with increasing infection rates and deaths. Many have chosen volunteering as a way to combat the effects of the pandemic instead of waiting for official response from authorities.

Young volunteers from the Duang Prateep Foundation ride on the back of a pickup truck toward the Khlong Toei district in central Bangkok where the virus spread rapidly through this densely populated community.

Funeral workers in personal protective equipment carry sealed body bags containing the remains of unclaimed COVID-19 victims to be cremated. The bodies were stored in a refrigerated container that was brought in to handle the influx of corpses at the mortuary at Thammasat University Hospital in the Pathum Thani province north of Bangkok.

Team members of the Zendai volunteer group carry supplies inside a storage tent in Bangkok. The items were donated for COVID-19 patients in home isolation as the country faced a severe shortage in hospital beds. Zendai has become popular for its role in providing care for people in need.

People wait in line to receive food donations from the Issarachon Foundation, a nonprofit based in Bangkok to support the deeply impoverished. According to foundation leaders, the homeless population has doubled in the neighborhood around the distribution site during the pandemic.

COVID-19 patients rest inside a tent at the Tha Rua community field hospital in Bangkok. The hospital, run by the nonprofit Duang Prateep Foundation, provides free healthcare for COVID-19 patients primarily from impoverished and migrant worker communities.

Response team members from Zendai, a Bangkok-based volunteer group, administer rapid antigen tests to workers at a fishing pier in Chon Buri. The village on the country’s eastern Gulf of Thailand coast experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases as infections spread across the country, putting a strain on healthcare services.

Volunteers from the Khlong Toei community disinfect each other after taking care of COVID-19 patients inside a temporary isolation area in Bangkok.

COVID-19 patient Sanguan Thaveeratdamrong, 82, who also suffers from Alzheimer's disease, is secured onto a stretcher by healthcare workers after the Zendai volunteer group managed to secure a hospital bed. Her daughter Boonnoi Madra, 59, who was also infected with COVID-19 and has diabetes, inhales from an oxygen tank while leaning on the pillar at the family house in Bangkok. Sanguan later died while being hospitalized.

Workers wait to get tested for COVID-19 by volunteers from the Bundit Asa organization at a labor camp on the outskirts of Bangkok. During the third wave of the pandemic, slum communities and labor camps around Bangkok were heavily affected due to overcrowded conditions and limited or cost-prohibitive access to tests.

Mannequins—in lieu of customers—fill seats at dining tables inside a restaurant in Patong Beach, a pre-COVID prime nightlife spot on the island of Phuket in southern Thailand. Although the island has reopened to foreign visitors, the number of tourists remains small.

People are monitored for side effects after receiving the vaccine shot at the Jiranakorn Stadium in Hat Yai, Thailand. Businesses in this commercial hub and shopping destination in the south of Thailand have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

Thailand is now at more than 2.1 million COVID-19 cases and 21,000 deaths during the 3rd wave of the outbreak where the Delta variant wrecks havoc in the capital. Those in need rely on volunteers to fill voids in the response efforts.

Read on National Geographic
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