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Covid-19 fears after hundreds of migrants infected, Thai Army says they can’t stop border breaches

Caitlin Ashworth

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Covid-19 fears after hundreds of migrants infected, Thai Army says they can’t stop border breaches | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thairath
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With fingers pointing at Burmese workers after the recent Covid-19 infection cluster at a Samut Sakhon shrimp market, the Royal Thai Army says there’s no way to completely seal Thailand’s borders and keep migrants from crossing illegally. Out of the 821 positive cases linked to the market, 788 are migrant workers and 33 are Thais, raising fears with Thai officials now imposing coronavirus prevention measures focused on migrants. UPDATE: As of this evening, the number of Covid-19 cases linked to the “Samut Sakhon cluster” surpassed 1,000.

Neighbouring Myanmar has reported 116,982 cases with more than 17,000 active cases, and cases have been increasing by the hundreds each day since September. While Thai authorities tightened border patrol and arrested a number of migrants since the lockdown, they say many still manage to cross through natural passageways (mountains, rivers, jungles.) Deputy army chief of staff spokesperson Santipong Thammapiya says there’s no way to completely seal off the border.

“Illegal migrant labourers are still crossing the border using natural channels, even though we have deployed a legion of soldiers to guard the demarcation. Our border is 5,526 kilometres long. (The actual Thai-Myanmar border is around 2,000 kilometres.)”

Myanmar reported a spike of coronavirus cases in September. Since then, Thai officials say they’ve tightened border patrol and blocked natural crossings with barbed wire fences. Santipong says the army will increase efforts and will now use drones, mobile patrol units and barbed wire, particularly in Tak, Chiang Rai and Kanchanaburi that are considered “high risk.” In those 3 provinces alone, 279 Burmese migrants were recently arrested for allegedly crossing the border illegally.

The infections in Samut Sakhon, just southwest of Bangkok, are concentrated in an area where migrants work and live. The workers live in crowded rooms with “sub-par sanitary standards,” according to the director of the Institute for Urban Disease Control, Vichan Pawun. He says the workers also rarely wore a mask.

Although the vast majority of infections are around the shrimp market, Vichan says the Public Health Ministry will be testing migrant workers throughout Thailand.

Earlier this month, a number of Thai women tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from Myanmar’s border town Tachileik, crossing to Chiang Rai illegally and evading the mandatory 14 day quarantine. At least 3 of the women are facing criminal charges for illegal entry and endangering public health.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post| Worldometers

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ynwaps

    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Can’t we just build a wall?

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      It would be impossible for the Thai Army or any other to close the border effectively – simply impossible.

      Penalising / punishing those crossing is also not an option – what can be done to them?

      The only option is to penalise those employing them, and hold them responsible.

  2. Avatar

    Mr. A

    Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at 2:27 am

    Some one was shuttling them in for 15k a pop! Maybe that should be investigated before they say “can’t”.

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Caitlin Ashworth is a writer from the United States who has lived in Thailand since 2018. She graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies in 2016. She was a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette In Massachusetts. She also interned at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia and Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida.

Thailand

Thailand’s PM says he won’t let Thais become vaccine “guinea pigs”

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Thailand’s PM says he won’t let Thais become vaccine “guinea pigs” | The Thaiger

Thailand’s PM is saying he won’t let Thai people become vaccine “guinea pigs” in his Facebook post today as he points to reports of serious negative side effects that some people have suffered after getting jabbed with the Covid-19 vaccine. Instead, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha says he will wait for more information from the experts about whether such side effects were attributed to the vaccine solely, or other factors.

“For Thai people, I decided not to take the risk and will not rush to inoculate with vaccines which have not been fully tested and will not let Thai people become guinea pigs.”

He says the National Vaccine Committee will advise the government and closely supervise the use of Covid-19 vaccines in the country once they are rolled out. As the vaccines are not yet available, he reiterated the importance of taking precautions such as wearing face masks when leaving home, practising social distancing and abstaining from gatherings, particularly political ones.

The government has reported 374 new cases of Covid-19 in the kingdom today, with all but 10 being locally-transmitted. Now, the total has risen to 12,000 cases since the pandemic began.

A government spokesman is also saying that PM Prayut is worried about people’s health as the weather has taken a turn for the cold. He also affirmed the importance of imposing measures under the Emergency Decree and Thailand’s Communicable Disease Act in order to help curb the recent Covid second wave. He is also reminding the public to download the Thai Chana and Mor Chana apps.

Thailand has ordered 60 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from a variety of sources, with the first shipment of 200,000 doses to arrive in February. Those vaccines are from China’s Sinovac Biotech. In March, another 800,000 doses are scheduled to arrive and another million by April.

The government has also pre-ordered 26 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, using vaccine technology transfer to allow local production by Thailand’s local company, Siam Bio Science.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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374 new cases today – Covid update

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374 new cases today – Covid update | The Thaiger

New case numbers have jumped alarmingly again today, even though the growth curve was starting to flatten a bit this week. Thailand is reporting 374 new cases of Covid-19today over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to over 12,000 infections since the pandemic began. Only 10 of those cases were non-local infections as they were found in state quarantine. 43 cases were found in the public and 321 cases were found within the migrant worker areas. 10 cases were found in Bangkok, and 24 cases were found in Samut Sakhon, where the initial cluster that kicked off the second wave began.

61 provinces are now reporting Covid cases with Patthalung province being the latest. Dr. Thaweesin Visanuyothin, from the CCSA, says the situation in surrounding countries is also concerning as he fears they may have a “knock-on” effect.

Samut Sakhon, Rayong, and Chon Buri provinces are still under almost full lockdowns due to the amount of cases found in migrant workers and from people frequenting illegal gambling dens. Thaweesin says entertainment venues are exposing the country to risks, as they are still open past curfew hours. He is urging the public to cooperate with the government in order to help curb further transmissions of the virus.

PM Prayut is also requesting people to stop holding public gatherings, (code for anti-government protests), in order to help prevent the spread of the virus. A spokesman says Prayut is “concerned” for the public’s health after recent weather has seen a drop in temperatures, only adding to the worries of contracting the coronavirus. Prayut has also asked the public to be careful when trying to stay warm, as starting bonfires could be dangerous.

The cold pass coming from China is expected to blanket Thailand starting today and lasting through January 19, causing a drop in temperatures of up to 8 degrees Celsius in northern areas.

The government spokesman also reiterated the need for the emergency decree to be enforced as well as the measures under Thailand’s Communicable Disease Act in order to help contain the virus. For their part, protest spokespersons have said they are delaying any new protests for the time being.

SOURCE: Thai Enquirer

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived.

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Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived. | The Thaiger

OPINION

The Thai Government, flushed with the success of their containment of Covid-19, decided to market the Land of Smiles to the world as the safe place to travel. With the annual wet season starting to weaken the tourists would flock back to the S E Asian country that had such remarkable success containing, then almost eradicating, itself of the coronavirus.

They floated the Phuket Model – a chance to visit Phuket and do your mandatory quarantine in a luxury hotel with walks along the almost deserted beaches. But Phuket’s locals didn’t like that idea. It was floated again just before the annual Vegetarian Festival on the island, because piercing yourself with sharp objects and wandering around the streets in big groups isn’t dangerous, but a few foreign tourists in hotel quarantine is.

Then they came up with the STV – the tourist visa which would have the world’s eager travellers packing their sun cream for up to 270 days of Thai tourism.

There were promises of plane loads of tourists and even published flights and carriers. A few flights arrived, most didn’t.

In fact, since the start of the STV, the Special Tourist Visa, with its long list of restrictions and requirements, was floated, along with a re-vamped Tourist Visa, less than 400 people have arrived per month, on average, since the end of October. In the October and November of the year before more than 3 million people arrived in Thailand. Even the government’s limit of 1,200 new tourist arrivals per month was even slightly tested.

The government had bought all the streamers and a pretty new dress for the party but no one came.

For the Army generals and public servants who ran the country it was a devastating loss of face. But they had other things to worry about at the time as the Thai youth were revolting, literally. Anti-government protests, whilst modest in size, were inconveniently demanding democracy at the same time as the government was trying to figure out how to attract tourists. They were also targeting, for the first time, the country’s revered monarchy and the man who currently sits on the Thai throne.

Suddently it was high season, the annual onslaught of tourists from the end of November, but popular spots like Phuket, Samui, Krabi, all the other islands, even Chiang Mai, just remained mostly devoid of tourists.

Meanwhile the STV wallowed in its own failure – another failed response to the reboot of Thai tourism.

What went wrong?

Where was the much-anticipated pent-up demand and people banging on the doors of the world’s Thai embassies?

It was the European winter and the ‘snowbirds’ would surely be back to soak in some Thai sun rays. But no.

The first problem was there wasn’t much for them to come back to. They would have the beaches of the islands all to themselves, they wouldn’t have to wait in line for anything, the domestic airlines were still selling low fares to travel anywhere around the country.

But otherwise there wasn’t a lot for them to do. The tourism magnets were a shadow of their former selves. Walking Street, Bangla Road, tours and tour boats, all the tourist-strip restaurants. The buzz of the crowds was gone and more than 90% of the tourist-related business had closed up.

Their staff, their families, their bank loans, their stock and investments – all on hold and forced to find some other means to make ends meet. 931 of some of the larger official tourism operators have now gone out of business, according to Bloomberg News. There would be thousands more of the smaller family operations that have also been swept aside by the Thai government’s responses to the world pandemic.

The industry players wanted action, changes and some sort of stimulus to bring back the tourists. For a country that relied on up to 20% for its GDP, getting the tourists and travellers back was THE only thing on their mind. 2019’s tourism revenue of US$60 billion had vanished from their, and their employee’s, pockets.

But the government wouldn’t relax the quarantine rules and maintained the restrictions and paperwork that has turned off even the keenest Thai-ravellers.

An outbreak of clusters to the south of Bangkok and the nearby eastern coastal provinces since December 20 hasn’t helped. In less than a month Thailand’s number of Covid-19 infections more than doubled. Initially the latest outbreak was tracked down to the illegal import of Burmese migrant workers by greedy seafood businesses wanting cheap labour. Then it spread to eastern provinces – Rayong, Chan Buri, Trat and Chanthaburi – through illegal gambling dens. In both cases the practices were things the local officials turned a blind eye to. The use of cheap, illegal migrant labour and illegal gambling were both popular pursuits but ‘underground’. It was a rude awakening for Thai officials that, this time, the enemy was within.

Street after street in Pattaya is deserted, shops shuttered. Parts of Phuket’s Patong are a ghost town. The island’s ubiquitous tuk tuks, taxis and tourist vans have vanished (where?!). Most of Bangkok is ‘sort of’ back to normal but there are few tourists topping up the retail till or booking rooms in the tens of thousands of hotels. Average occupancy rates, even for the brave hotels that have re-opened their doors, has been less than 30% – bottomline, they’re losing money.

On the upside, if you are living in Thailand, the plane fares remain cheap, hotels have slashed their prices and, for the first time, many renters will consider a discount. The Thai government has been active in stimulating the domestic tourism but apart from circulating the local currency, the country’s tourism industry remains on-hold until the pandemic passes. And that, as we’ve seen, won’t be any time soon.

The world’s travellers, now a much smaller groups than the masses that fuelled the world’s aviation industry in the past few decades, are not heading to Thailand to front up to a 14 day quarantine. They’re going to the Maldives and Costa Rica, and a handful of other resorts who have thrown caution to the wind – some with greater success than others. Just about every survey indicates that tourists, even business travellers, are not willing to stare down 14 days couped up in a 20-30 square metre hotel room. For many of the hotels that rushed to be registered as ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) facilities, many have dropped out, some of them are now closed.

The stakes are now really high for Thailand and its tourism industry. The government, despite demands, is refusing to reduce the quarantine time or lessen the long list of restrictions and paperwork. The country has now lost it’s glossy veneer as the ‘safe country to visit’ and the annual high season will be coming to a close in a month or so.

Chinese New Year and the annual flood of Chinese visitors to Thailand? Won’t be happening in 2021, the Chinese year of the Ox.

The other ‘elephant in the room’ was the high value of the Thai baht against the currencies of some of the traditional feeder markets. Whilst the Thai baht has been relatively steadfast, many of these currencies have dropped in value against the THB. The perception was that Thailand as becoming too expensive to travel. But 2019 was still the biggest year for tourism on record, despite this often-wheeled out prediction of a tourism apocalypse.

The only hope on the horizon is the vaccine, or vaccines. The early global roll out is just that, early. It will take 6 – 12 months to see if the hard work of the world’s medical and scientific community will be the great saviour.Certainly, a risk-averse Thailand will be limiting any tourism in the immediate future to vaccinated customers. only, and (as stated policy) they will still have to do the 14 day mandatory quarantine, at least in the short-to medium term. Same with the world’s airlines. So Thailand’s tourism woes, especially in the hotspots – Pattaya, Phuket, the islands, Chiang Mai and Bangkok – will reverberate throughout 2021 as well.

Thailand’s economy contracted 6% in 2020 but some economists are predicting a positive turn-around to a 3.5 – 4.5% improvement in 2021. Even the ever-optimistic Thai Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, says that there will be 10 million arrivals in 2021. The actual numbers, even in the best of circumstances, will fall well below that prediction. Exactly where the tourists would come from, under the current circumstances and a global depression, is difficult to imagine.

In 2020 the buzz word in the tourism industry was ‘closure’. In 2021 it will be ‘management’.

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