A second hospital has been prepared and is ready to receive COVID-19 patients, as six new cases have been reported in Chiang Rai among people returning from working in Tachilek, in Myanmar.
Chiang Rai governor Prachon Pratsakul on Monday announced the six new infections found in Thai returnees, which had not yet been included in the daily update by the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration.
The centre reported on Monday that nine Thais returning from Tachilek were among 21 new cases. The six new cases in Chiang Rai will be added in the centre’s tally on Tuesday, for a total of 15.
Provincial public health chief Thossathep Boonthong said the new cases included four women who worked at the 1G1-7 Hotel in Tachilek. They returned and reported to authorities last Wednesday. Their tests on Sunday confirmed their infections.
The other two women had worked at the Hollywood nightclub and Karaoke bar in the Myanmar town, and returned on Saturday. Their tests on Sunday were also positive.
All are being treated at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in Muang district.
Thailand has 38 cases directly and indirectly linked to people returning from Tachilek, 26 of them found in Chiang Rai, since the first was detected on 24th November.
With the number of infections found in Chiang Rai on the rise, officials in the northern province are working with their Myanmar counterparts on the Thai-Myanmar Township Border Committee (TBC) to encourage Thais working in the Myanmar town to return through the official border checkpoint at the second Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, hoping to contain the outbreak.
Although they return through the checkpoint they will still be charged with crossing illegally because the border is officially closed.
Deputy provincial governor Narong Rojanasothorn said at least 42 Thais were due to return from Tachilek on Monday. “We are closely coordinating with Myanmar through the TBC.”
The hotspot in Tachilek is the 1G1-7 Hotel. It promotes itself as an entertainment complex and is just 1.5 kilometres from the Thai border, Mae Sai district, and 2-3km from the permanent border crossing. It has foreign investors and offers a full range of pubs, young girls, drinks, karaoke and a casino.
Hundreds of Thais work there, according to Sophon Iamsirithaworn, director of the Communicable Diseases Division.
The hotel has been closed since 24th November due to the coronavirus outbreak in that area of Myanmar.
Chiang Rai authorities said they expect more Thais will flee Tachilek in fear of catching the virus.
Chiang Rai uses Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital as the main base to treat infected people, including those from the Myanmar town.
Dr Boonthong said Mae Fah Luang Medical Centre at Mae Fah Luang University in Muang district was now ready to receive coronavirus patients if Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital reaches full capacity.
He sought to ease concerns about the virus situation in the province, saying the cases from Tachilek were not severe infections, and health personnel could handle them.
The provincial health chief said the new facility at the university was prepared because authorities do not know how many Thais intend to return from Myanmar.