Border security beefed up
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Border security beefed up

Migrants paying to be smuggled across

Soldiers secure the border with Myanmar, in Mae Sot district of Tak, at night to block illegal migrants and control the novel coronavirus. (Photo: Assawin Pinitwong)
Soldiers secure the border with Myanmar, in Mae Sot district of Tak, at night to block illegal migrants and control the novel coronavirus. (Photo: Assawin Pinitwong)

The authorities are strengthening security along the Myanmar border to block illegal entry -- and vowing to prosecute anyone who helps to sneak people in -- after a Thai woman tested positive for Covid-19 after returning home.

However, Chiang Rai governor Prachon Pratsakul said officials had decided to keep open the permanent checkpoint at the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge because to shut it would have an enormous impact on cross-border trade.

He said officials would step up border security to prevent smuggling and would ask their Myanmar counterparts to help locate and send home any Thais they found stranded in Myanmar. A local quarantine facility would also be set up in Mae Sai border area, he said.

Mr Prachon said he had provided information about a smuggling gang to Chiang Rai police to investigate and this gang, which was reportedly led by a foreign national, was believed to be linked to the Thai woman who contracted the virus in Myanmar and sneaked home along a natural border.

The 29-year-old Thai woman reportedly caught the virus in Myanmar and despite going down with a fever, returned to Thailand and visited several places before finally going to hospital and testing positive for the coronavirus.

She was able to do so without entering quarantine, which has alarmed the authorities.

She returned with a female friend who also exhibited flu-like symptoms, although it has not been confirmed if she too contracted Covid-19.

The two women came back via Chiang Rai before the woman found with Covid headed for Chiang Mai.

On Sunday, Mr Prachon said that as part of stepped-up Covid-19 surveillance, Thai officials would ask their Myanmar counterparts to randomly test Myanmar lorry drivers.

While the drivers were not required to take Covid-19 tests when crossing the border, they were not allowed to enter the country's inner provinces, he said, adding that a total of 285 lorries were registered with the checkpoint.

Col Samrit Chatwattanasakul, an officer attached to the Pha Muang Task Force, said on Sunday that border patrols had been increased along the Thai-Myanmar border, with more security cameras and lighting installed. Drones would also be deployed in the patrols.

Citing information from people who had been arrested while sneaking across the border, he said they had paid from 3,000-5,000 baht for the service and many would be dressed like farmworkers to disguise themselves.

He said many Thais had decided to sneak back from Myanmar because they had illegally crossed the border to get there.

Meanwhile, health officials in Chiang Rai on Sunday tracked down the friend of the Covid-19 infected woman and a man who give them a ride to a bus terminal in Mae Sai district.

The driver, who was sent to a local quarantine facility in Muang district, has also been admitted to hospital after falling sick.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Sunday ordered provincial governors to step up surveillance against illegal border crossings and work closely with the authorities stem the smuggling of migrant workers.

Sophon Iamsirithavorn, director of the Public Health Ministry's Communicable Diseases Division, said tests had been run on 65 people in the high-risk group who had close contact with the infected woman.

They also tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days in special facilities or at home.

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