The border district of Mae Sot is on high alert for a large number of Thais working in a casino in Myawaddy to flee the COVID-19 hotspot in Myanmar.
Opas Kankawinpong, director-general of the Disease Control Department, expected hundreds of Thai workers at a casino in the cross-border town to move back through the district in Tak soon after the province temporarily reopens the checkpoint to allow them through.
He posted a video clip on the department Facebook page saying “We have estimated hundreds of Thais are stuck there. We don’t know how many of them have been infected.”
The latest batch of Thai returnees, believed to number 40, arrived on Thursday. 17 of them tested positive and were sent to Mae Sot Hospital. They worked for the Sky Complex casino, just across the Moei River that separates Mae Sot and Myawaddy.
Security officials estimated a total of 300 local and Thai staff work at the casino. Myawaddy is home to several other casinos, but the latest group of returnees worked at Sky Complex.
It was unclear when the district will open the border for them to come back.
The temporary reopening is intended to prevent Thai workers from crossing back over the river illegally, making it easier for health authorities to control the virus.
“There will be no more Thai people sneaking into Mae Sot as their illegal movement could pose health dangers to residents in the district and the country,” Dr Kankawinpong said.
The department chief said Mae Sot had prepared field hospitals to receive the influx of Thais from Myawaddy, in addition to the main hospital in the district town.
Mae Sot has confirmed at least 60 COVID-19 cases since Monday, according to figures of the district public health office, including 17 new transmissions announced on Sunday by the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration.
The Mae Sot municipality is campaigning for residents in the town to keep their guard up in anticipation of the return of their compatriots from the other side of the river.
Mae Sot mayor Therdkiat Chinsaranon on Saturday called for strict cooperation from people in the district to get through the crisis.
National police chief Suwat Jangyodsuk, who inspected the border area in Mae Sot, including the location opposite the casino, on Saturday, said additional police personnel would be assigned to guard the border.