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Health Officials Can’t Agree Whether Thailand Has Enough Medical Oxygen Amid Illegal Tank Smuggling

Medical Oxygen Cylinders

Thailand health officials contradicted each other Tuesday over how much medical oxygen the country has to battle the coronavirus epidemic amid fears of a shortage caused by illegal tank smuggling to Myanmar.

Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said the Department of Industrial Works has contacted industrial gas manufacturers under the Federation of Thai Industries, gas-filling factories as well as gas container manufacturers about their current capacity and all have confirmed that they can produce enough medical oxygen during the Covid-19 outbreak.

At nearly the same time, Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Medical Services Department, said shortage of oxygen used for treating Covid-19 patients is becoming an increasing problem that is being worsened by the smuggling of oxygen tanks into Myanmar.

He added that the oxygen shortage has stalled plans to better equip several hospitals with oxygen tanks, inhibiting the ability to add more hospital beds for oxygen users because “many” tanks have been smuggled to Myanmar.

Thailand’s neighbor has a coronavirus crisis worse than Thailand’s and is suffering an acute shortage of oxygen and tanks, with reports that the military is hoarding supplies and even seizing tanks legally imported from Thailand.

Somsak said not having the tanks is making it difficult for the department to assist more Covid-19 patients who need oxygen support in Bangkok and its vicinity.

Yet according to the industry minister, everything is fine and sunny. Suriya said there are currently 15 factories manufacturing oxygen, at 1,860 tons per day, in Ayutthaya, Saraburi, Chonburi, Rayong, Songkhla, Lamphun and Chiang Mai provinces. In August, a new factory will open in Rayong, pushing the country’s total capacity to 2,200 tons per day.

He added that the country’s total oxygen demand is at 1,260 tons per day on average. Of this, the industrial sector consumes 660 tons daily, while the medical sector requires 400 to 600 tons daily.

The National News Bureau of Thailand contributed to this report.