Thermal screening for all China arrivals

Thermal screening for all China arrivals

Chinese tourist in Hua Hin being tested for coronavirus

Initial check: Passengers arriving from China stand in a long queue as they wait to walk through a thermal scanner at Don Mueang Airport, which is intensifying the screening of passengers by checking them for signs of fever.
Initial check: Passengers arriving from China stand in a long queue as they wait to walk through a thermal scanner at Don Mueang Airport, which is intensifying the screening of passengers by checking them for signs of fever.

Public health and airport authorities are doubling down on efforts to prevent an outbreak by screening travellers from cities near China's Wuhan, as they step up a probe into a suspected new coronavirus case in Hua Hin.

Panlop Singhaseni, governor of Prachuap Khiri Khan, said health officials are waiting for lab results of a 73-year-old Chinese woman who has been quarantined at a Hua Hin hospital.

The woman, identified as a medical personnel officer from Wuhan, landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Jan 19 with two friends and chartered a taxi to Hua Hin. On Jan 23, the woman developed a fever and sought treatment at a private hospital which reported the case to the provincial health office. A medical team was sent to investigate and the patient was quarantined.

According to the governor, the woman's friends are also being monitored, and so far they show no symptoms of the illness. The authorities are also tracking down the taxi driver.

Suwanchai Watthanayingcharoenchai, director-general of the Department of Disease Control (CDC), said yesterday the Hua Hin case is being treated as a case of "Patients Under Investigation" (PUI).

He said the Public Health Ministry will handle the issue if the patient is confirmed to have contracted coronavirus, noting there are 20 cases of PUI in the country. So far, five cases of the virus have been confirmed, and all patients were found to have either stayed in or were coming from Wuhan. Four of the patients are Chinese nationals, two of whom have been discharged. The fifth, a Thai woman in Nakhon Pathom, has also been discharged.

Dr Suwanchai said passengers from other Chinese cities close to Wuhan, such as Guangzhou, are also being checked. It is believed that people may have defied the lockdown in Wuhan and travelled to other cities in China.

He said as a double precaution, passengers are also being screened before they enter immigration checkpoints. "We've been doing beyond what is recommended and we started early."

Airports in Thailand began screening passengers on Jan 3, and as of Jan 23, 53 people had been taken in as suspected cases, though 33 have been discharged. According to Dr Suwanchai, checking the temperature of passengers travelling from high-risk areas remains the most effective detection tool.

Surat Polthong, a public health official attached to the international quarantine office, said Don Mueang Airport was monitoring all flights from Guangzhou and directing passengers to a designated gate where they will be screened by health professionals.

He said the passengers will undergo thermal scanning and those with symptoms associated to viral infections will be separated for further examination. Suspected cases will be sent for treatment, while others will be closely monitored.

It is estimated that as many as 24,000 passengers from China land in Don Mueang Airport daily. There are 13 inbound flights and 12 outbound ones between Guangzhou and Don Mueang.

Airlines and airports are compiling statistics about travellers affected by the Wuhan lockdown and the Immigration Bureau has decided to waive overstay fines for those detained due to the coronavirus.

Sutheerawat Suwanwa, Suvarnabhumi Airport's managing director, said yesterday that arrangements were being made to clear travellers left stranded after all flights were Wuhan were cancelled.

China Southern Airlines, which operates three flights to and from Wuhan and Suvarnabhumi, has cancelled flights until Feb 8. He said information about passengers affected by the Wuhan lockdown is being collected and they are being advised to contact the Airport Operation Centre for assistance.

Initially the number of travellers from Wuhan in December was estimated at 20,000.

Chiang Mai Airport, meanwhile, has reported that some 200 to 300 tourists are stranded and flights are being arranged to get them to their intended destinations within three days.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul will meet executives with the ministries of Public Health, Transport and Tourism and Sports to discuss further measures to prevent an outbreak, said Trisulee Trisaranakul, a deputy government spokeswoman. The proposed measures will be submitted to the cabinet on Tuesday.

She said the Ministry of Tourism and Sports also plans to meet tourism and hotel operators tomorrow to make sure they handle all suspected cases properly.

The ministry is also working with travel agencies to gather information about Thais visiting Wuhan and other cities at risk.

Sumalee Wongcharoenkul, secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said the coronavirus situation is likely to drag on for at least another two months and the number of Chinese tourists is expected to drop by half this year.

However, she said, the industry is hopeful that business will pick up after the virus is contained and the government rolls out measures to help stimulate the tourism sector.

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