Five recent COVID-19 imports from neighbouring countries have highlighted the danger of the virus being brought into Thailand by illegal border crossers, authorities say.
On Sunday, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) said the five cases were all Thais who sneaked back into the country without passing through border checkpoints.
Two illegally crossed the border to Sa Kaeo from Cambodia on Thursday, while another two returned from Malaysia on 28th April and last Monday, respectively. One Thai national slipped into Tak from Myanmar on 2nd May. All were admitted to state hospitals.
Thai authorities arrested 15,378 people sneaking in from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Myanmar in the first four months of this year, CCSA data showed. More than a third – 6,700 – were Myanmar nationals, and another 1,700 were Thais.
The large number of arrests came despite intensified border patrols by security forces.
“We are worried about this problem,” CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin told a press conference, adding that the concern was shared by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and National Security Council Secretary-General Gen Natthapol Nakpanich.
Deputy army spokeswoman Col Sirichan Ngathong said in another briefing that soldiers captured 380 illegal migrants, at least 43 of them Thais, along the border with Myanmar and Cambodia from 30th April to Sunday.
Like Thailand, countries around the kingdom are battered by the COVID-19 outbreak. The virus has claimed 399 lives and infected 83,375 people in Thailand since the pandemic began last year.
The borders with Myanmar and Malaysia posed the most serious problem, he said. Many Myanmar nationals crossed into Thailand seeking jobs or fleeing the conflict there, while Thais working in Malaysia wanted to come home because of the outbreak there.
Col Ngathong said on Sunday that the Myanmar nationals arrested along the border from 30th April to Sunday were job seekers and were either pushed back or charged with illegal entry.
In another case, 10 Myanmar nationals who had been working in Malaysia and were trying to get back to their home country were apprehended in Sadao district of Songkhla on Sunday.
Col Ayuphan Kanasutra, who commanded a task force at the border, said security authorities had intercepted two taxis on a local road transporting the illegal migrants to Hat Yai district, from where they were to be smuggled back to Myanmar.
The Myanmar nationals, along with two Thai drivers identified as Abdulrahman Kongkslimuen and Siriwat Suwanmanee, were sent to Sadao police station to be charged.