Thailand’s first coronavirus death over the weekend has drawn doubts about the official explanation for his death and the candor of one of the kingdom’s most influential corporations.
Members of the public are asking why duty free monopoly King Power closed one of its stores, where the salesman had been, a month ago without warning the public until yesterday, after his death. Meanwhile a disease specialist at a top hospital has accused the Public Health Ministry of misstating the facts of his condition.
The unnamed man became Thailand’s first COVID-19 fatality when it was announced Sunday, prompting a slew of carefully worded statements by public health officials and one of Thailand’s most powerful corporations.
The 35-year-old’s death due to the coronavirus was confirmed by Suwanchai Wattanayingcharoen, director of the Disease Control Department.
The man reportedly took ill Jan. 28 and went to a hospital before returning to work the next day. He was described as a salesman who sold products at a King Power store in Samut Prakan province.
After returning to work on Jan. 29, he felt sick again.
King Power says that he went on leave for dengue fever the next day. By Feb. 5, he was admitted to the Nonthaburi medical facility where COVID-19 patients have been treated in isolation, according to King Power and health officials. He tested positive the next day. On Saturday, he died of organ failure, according to Suwanchai.
After his death, King Power acknowledged that it closed the Samut Prakan store on Feb. 6, the same day the man allegedly tested positive. The company made no public statements on the matter, and no announcement of the closure could be found on its official page apart from a statement that another store at Pattaya’s Ramayana Water Park would close.
The company did issue a Jan. 27 statement declaration that it was “aware and concerned” about the virus and disinfecting its stores.
Online, some accused King Power Group of a cover-up.
“Why did you come out and tell the public just now? This qualifies as an intentional cover-up. If the man didn’t die, you might have just kept on being silent,” Facebook user Jaruvun Sripin wrote.
“You should have announced since the first day that he was infected, so people could be alert and take extra care of themselves,” wrote user Komsan Jack.
The man, whose name is unidentified, was said to have been in contact with tourists at the workplace.
While Suwanchai asserted the man was sick with dengue fever prior to testing positive for COVID-19, a disease expert at one of the kingdom’s top hospitals quickly cast doubt on that explanation.
Thiravat Hemachudha, the head of King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital’s emergent disease center accused the health ministry of getting its facts wrong, saying he had the coronavirus all along, not dengue fever.
“I understand that the Public Health Ministry might have mistakenly diagnosed the patient’s conditions and disease,” he wrote on Facebook, saying that lab results showed dengue fever but did not find the virus. “Both lungs of the man were affected by severe pneumonia, which shows that he had COVID-19 since the very beginning, not dengue fever.”
Prior to Sunday, Thailand had announced 41 coronavirus cases since January, with 30 of those deemed to have recovered and 11 still being treated.
Rightly or wrongly, skepticism has mounted over Thailand’s disease reporting transparency, given the high volume of travel – Bangkok is the world’s most visited city – and millions of annual travelers from China, where the outbreak began.
The first case outside of China was confirmed in the kingdom, which for a time led in confirmed infections before being overtaken by Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. The majority of new cases have been announced on Tuesdays, which also happens to be the day the prime minister and his cabinet meet.
King Power International Group has been run by Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha since October 2018 when his father was killed in a helicopter crash in England.
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