Operators of 57 sugar mills are struggling to procure Covid-19 vaccines for 800,000 workers and sugar cane farmers as the virus has hit some factories and threatens to severely affect this labour-intensive industry.
Thus far, 30-40% of the 800,000 in the industry, which includes farmers under sugar cane supply contracts, have been vaccinated, according to the Sugar Industry Club under the Federation of Thai Industries.
Sugar millers want to stop infections and vaccinate workers and farmers before the new cane crushing season for the 2021-2022 crop year starts in December.
"New Covid-19 cases continue to increase in many sectors, including the sugar industry. Infections emerged in some factories when they were processing raw sugar into white sugar," said Chalush Chinthammit, chairman of the Sugar Industry Club.
He is worried about the low rate of vaccinations among sugar factory workers and cane farmers.
If the infection spread continues, sugar output will be affected, said Mr Chalush. The industry plays a key role in driving the economy and supporting the livelihoods of many cane farmers, he said.
Cane growers are working with sugar factories to acquire more vaccines, said Narathip Anantasuk, head of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters and head of the Office of Sugarcane Planter Association Zone 7.
Sugar cane crushing relies on raw materials harvested by migrant workers, including those from Cambodia, he said. Workers cut fresh cane as they have been instructed not to burn the crops during harvesting, part of a state policy to reduce the level of PM2.5 ultra-fine dust pollution.
To contain the virus spread, sugar factories are also using rapid antigen test kits to separate infected workers from their peers.
"The test kits are rather expensive," said Mr Chalush. "The club wants the government to help lower the prices so people can access them more easily."