Wuhan evacuation plan eyed
Ministry holds urgent meet as virus spreads
The Foreign Ministry will on Monday host a meeting to review a contingency plan for Thais in China as the number of confirmed cases and deaths from the outbreak of the new coronavirus continues to rise.
Trisulee Trisaranakul, a deputy government spokeswoman, said the Rapid Response Centre and various authorities will also be updated by the Thai embassy and consulate offices in China as they thrash out the contingency plan.
One measure could involve evacuation of Thais from Wuhan where the virus originated. The death toll in China from the virus originating in Wuhan, Hubei Province, has risen to 56, while more cases have been found in many countries including Australia, France, Malaysia and Nepal.
Busadee Santipitaks, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Thai officials in China are monitoring the situation closely and are in constant contact with Thai students and communities there. She said there are 54 Thai students and about 10 workers in the spa business in Wuhan and all are safe.
A Thai student in Wuhan wrote on Facebook the students barely have enough food and were worried about contracting the virus. She wanted the government to help evacuate them.
Ms Busadee said theThai embassy in Beijing had contacted the students and offered advice; meanwhile, checks with Hubei province's foreign office found the restaurants and shops at the university are open as normal.
A source from the Transport Ministry said security agencies and Thai Airways International (THAI) will also attend the meeting and an evacuation plan will possibly take shape.
If the meeting concludes the situation in Wuhan is severe, the government may order the air force to proceed with the evacuation, according to the source.
Air force commander ACM Manat Wongwat said that up to four C-134 planes with medical staff are on stand-by to evacuate Thai people if need be. "The air force is fully prepared," he said.
Meanwhile, the cabinet will be asked to set up a national committee to manage the handling of the coronavirus situation, said Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul after chairing a meeting between the Public Health Ministry, the Transport Ministry, the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
He said authorities are still working out measures to prevent further spread of the virus but said turning away travellers from China is possibly asking too much and too soon.
"China has imposed a lockdown. Hong Kong has suspended classes. Each country has its own conditions and plans to handle the situation. Thailand has done a really good job in handling a situation like this.
"Sometimes we take proactive measures and sometimes we are on the defence. We have to make sure our responses don't affect people's daily lives and economic systems," he said.
Mr Anutin said the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Thailand has reached eight while the accumulated number of cases under investigation stands at 84. Of the eight confirmed cases, seven are Chinese people and the other is a Thai national. Five have been discharged from hospitals. Of the 84 cases under investigation, 45 have been discharged and 39 remain in isolation at hospital.
Meanwhile, a number of suspected cases were reported in several provinces including Chiang Mai, Nakhon Sawan and Rayong on Sunday.
The Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovations has urged universities nationwide to step up surveillance. Soranit Silatham, the ministry's permanent secretary, said there are about 7,000 Chinese students across the country and many had returned to their hometowns in China during the new year festival.
Earlier, the ministry asked Chinese students to delay their return to Thailand by at least two weeks as a precaution.
The Department of Communicable Diseases Control's has recruited Chinese-language interpreters to help officials interview tourists from risk areas. The call for applications attracted overwhelming interest with applications closing in less than 24 hours.
Parisa Panprom, chief of Chiang Mai provincial tourism and sports office, said about 120 Chinese tourists from Wuhan were on Sunday scheduled to return to China and arrangements had been made for them to fly to nearby destinations.
She said all had been screened by the disease control checkpoint of Chiang Mai airport. Chiang Mai international airport has suspended all flights between Wuhan and Chiang Mai until Feb 4.