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

PHOTO: Thairath

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.

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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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Caitlin Ashworth

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.

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