Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha spoke to the public yesterday in an attempt to allay fears of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, saying the Thais who sneaked back across the border from Myanmar’s Tachileik town were not super-spreaders.
The prime minister also warned that those who entered the country illegally via natural passages to avoid mandatory quarantine will face legal action.
Speaking via the government’s Thai Khu Fah podcast broadcast on Monday, Gen Chan-o-cha gave assurances that the COVID-19 situation in Thailand remained under control despite some infected Thais sneaking back across the border from Myanmar.
“It is not a second wave of infections or super-spreaders. It is individual infections. We have asked the neighbouring country to screen and prevent them from entering via natural passages along the border,” the prime minister said.
He said he instructed authorities to build barricades along the border and step up border patrols around the clock to stop illegal crossings by people who may bring the disease with them.
The Interior Ministry has also been told to set up additional checkpoints to watch for those who might manage to sneak back, while local residents have also been urged to keep an eye out for strangers or outsiders who enter their villages and alert authorities, the prime minister said.
“Those who sneak back will face legal punishment because they are irresponsible towards others and society as a whole,” Gen Chan-o-cha said.
“I told security agencies to use aerial photography or drones to survey any new natural crossings that might be used by illegal border crossers so additional barricades and patrols can be deployed there,” Gen Chan-o-cha said.
He also warned that human smuggling gangs that helped people enter the country illegally via natural passages will be dealt with severely and any officials who were involved will also be punished.
The prime minister also called for public calm, saying the government is finding ways to solve the COVID-19 problem. He added that the COVID-19 situation is expected to ease next year when vaccines are available.
Gen Nattaphon Narkphanit, head of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration’s (CCSA) panel on the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, chaired a meeting to follow up on cases involving Thais returning from working at the COVID-19 hotspot hotel in Myanmar’s Tachileik town.
After the meeting, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, said that there were a total of 32 infected patients who sneaked back from Myanmar, with two local transmission cases who contracted the virus from the returnees from Myanmar.
Dr Karnkawinpong said that the National Security Council had instructed security agencies to tighten curbs on illegal entry through natural passages. All must go through official checkpoints and undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine, he said.
“The situations in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and other provinces where infections were found have been brought under control. So far, no additional cases from Tachileik have been found. Don’t worry. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are safe for travel,” Dr Karnkawinpong said.
Jaturon Chaiyakham, deputy director-general of the Department of Consular Affairs, said that the prime minister had instructed the Foreign Affairs Ministry to expedite the relaxation of restrictions on foreigners entering Thailand.
In light of this, the ministry will seek cabinet approval for an extension of free visas for foreign tourists from 30 days to 45 to compensate for their 14-day-quarantine period. There are 56 eligible countries for visa exemption. This will also apply to Russia which has a visa-exemption agreement with Thailand, Mr Chaiyakham said.
With the extension, the number of tourists is expected to increase from 10,000 to 20,000 per month, he said.
The CCSA on Monday recorded 21 new cases of the novel coronavirus, including nine Thais who reentered the country from Myanmar, for an accumulated total of 4,107 since the outbreak began. No new deaths were reported, leaving the toll at 60.
The CCSA said the new cases comprised 15 Thais and six foreigners.
The Thai returnees included nine people who had worked at the coronavirus hotspot 1G1-7 Hotel in Tachileik, Myanmar. Unlike previous returnees, however, they re-entered Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai through the official checkpoint and were tested immediately.