With well-deserved high praise and recognition from the World Health Organization (WHO), Thailand’s tough measures and skilled handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has set an example for others to follow – not just in Asia, but around the world. With just 4,053 cases and only 60 deaths, there are few countries how can match Thailand’s efforts at controlling the spread of the virus.
However, an uncharacteristic spike in cases of the virus has caused concern and doubt amongst Thai citizens, as 107 new cases were confirmed in the last week – above the weekly average. Here’s a look at where the cases have come from, what Thailand is doing about it and what this means about travel prospects in the new year.
Migrant Workers Return
The main cause for alarm in Thailand has been positive Covid-19 test result from Thai citizens who made illegal border crossings from Myanmar. Myanmar is currently suffering from a deluge of cases of the virus, with an average of 1,421 cases per day and total infections rapidly heading towards the 100,000 mark.
As many as ten recent Covid-19 cases in Thailand have been attributed to Thais who took the clandestine trip through natural passages from the Myanmar border town of Tachilek to neighboring Chiang Rai province. In doing so, the workers avoided having to be quarantined and managed to travel many places whilst unknowingly infected with the virus. Some of those infected visited various different provinces such as Chiang Mai and Ratchaburi, whilst others frequented bars and even took domestic flights to Bangkok before it emerged that they had contracted the virus.
Thai authorities are now searching for those who may have come into contact with the newly-infected patients. So far, the search has yielded one positive case of Covid-19 from one of the patrons of a bar frequented by those who crossed the border. Two further positive tests came from women who were friends with one of those who worked in Tachilek. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha claimed that officials have tested more than 100 people that came into contact with the border crossers, and are working to track down more.
Following the news that one of the positive cases had visited a karaoke bar and a shopping mall in Chiang Mai, the city has been placed on high alert, and has begun disinfesting areas that the woman had visited. Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stated that those who made the illegal crossing will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, whilst the Prime Minister has ordered the military to help protect the 2,400km border with Myanmar.
As many Southeast Asian leaders call for a travel bubble between their nations, incidents such as this are likely to prolong the waiting time for such things to come to fruition. One of the key reasons for Thailand’s Covid-19 success story has been its fierce border control; this week’s news headlines have called that into question.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that some provinces in Thailand could move into lockdown. At the start of the pandemic, Thailand went into a full, national lockdown, before handing power over to provinces to dictate their own terms. Should more positive cases be found in Chiang Mai, it may well happen there. This would come as a particular blow, with a long weekend coming up next week and Chiang Mai proving to be popular with domestic tourists.
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