Authorities are stepping up security along the Myanmar border in an attempt to block illegal entry and vow to prosecute anyone who helps to sneak people into Thailand after a Thai woman tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home.
However, Chiang Rai governor Prachon Pratsakul said officials had decided to keep open the permanent checkpoint at the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge because to close it would have an enormous impact on cross-border trade.
The governor said officials would strengthen border security to prevent smuggling and would ask their Myanmar counterparts to help locate and send home any Thais they found stranded in Myanmar. A local quarantine facility would also be set up in Mae Sai border area, he said.
Mr Pratsakul said he had provided information about a smuggling gang to Chiang Rai police to investigate and this gang, which was reportedly led by a foreign national, was believed to be linked to the Thai woman who contracted the virus in Myanmar and sneaked home along a natural border.
The 29-year-old Thai woman reportedly caught the virus in Myanmar and despite going down with a fever, returned to Thailand and visited several places before finally going to the hospital and testing positive for the coronavirus.
She was able to do so without entering quarantine, which has alarmed the authorities.
She returned with a female friend who also exhibited flu-like symptoms, although it has not been confirmed if she too contracted COVID-19.
The two women came back via Chiang Rai before the woman found with COVID-19 headed for Chiang Mai.
On Sunday, Mr Pratsakul said that as part of a stepped-up COVID-19 surveillance effort, Thai officials would ask their Myanmar counterparts to randomly test Myanmar lorry drivers.
While the drivers were not required to take COVID-19 tests when crossing the border, they were not allowed to enter the country’s inner provinces, he said, adding that a total of 285 lorries were registered with the checkpoint.
Col Samrit Chatwattanasakul, an officer attached to the Pha Muang Task Force, said on Sunday that border patrols had been increased along the Thai-Myanmar border, with more security cameras and lighting installed. Drones would also be deployed in the patrols.
Citing information from people who had been arrested while sneaking across the border, he said they had paid from 3,000-5,000 baht for the service and many dressed like farmworkers to disguise themselves.
He said many Thais had decided to sneak back from Myanmar because they had illegally crossed the border to get there.
Meanwhile, health officials in Chiang Rai on Sunday tracked down the friend of the COVID-19 infected woman and a man who give them a ride to a bus terminal in Mae Sai district.
The driver, who was sent to a local quarantine facility in Muang district, has also been admitted to hospital after falling sick.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Sunday ordered provincial governors to step up surveillance against illegal border crossings and work closely with the authorities stem the smuggling of migrant workers.
Sophon Iamsirithavorn, director of the Public Health Ministry’s Communicable Diseases Division, said tests had been run on 65 people in the high-risk group who had close contact with the infected woman.
They also tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days in special facilities or at home.
Dr Iamsirithavorn said the woman is believed have become infected while in Myanmar. Drawing on the investigation by health workers, he presented the following timeline:
- From 24th October to 23rd November, the woman was in Myanmar. On 23rd November, she developed a fever, watery diarrhoea and lost her sense of smell.
- On 24th November, she still had a fever and developed a cough and a headache. Around 5 am on that day, she travelled from Myanmar to Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai by public van.
- Around 11 am on 24th November, she left Chiang Rai for Chiang Mai by bus.
- At 2.51 pm the same day, the woman arrived at her condominium in a Grab car. That night, she used another Grab car to visit a karaoke bar in the Santitham area with two friends. They smoked a cigarette and shared it.
- On 25th November, she stayed overnight at a condominium with one of the friends who had returned from the entertainment venue around 2 am. Two other friends who lived in the room opposite came to the room to drink alcohol.
- About noon on 25th November, the woman left the condominium in another Grab car. She arrived at her condo building at around 1 pm.
- Between 3.30 pm and 8.30 pm, she used another Grab car to visit a shopping mall and watched a movie there, had meals and went shopping. She wore a face mask most of the time. She later used another Grab car to return to her condominium.
- On 26th November, the woman took a Grab car to a private hospital in Chiang Mai for a medical check-up around 3.30 pm after she lost her sense of smell, had watery diarrhoea and a body temperature of 36.9C. She underwent a COVID-19 test.
- Around 10 pm, she was sent to Nakornping Hospital for another COVID-19 test. On 27th November, the tests turned out positive