Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Saturday threatened to cease free medical treatment for Covid-19 infected people who break the law and expose the public to infection risks.
The minister floated the idea on his Facebook page as the country's total Covid-19 cases rose to 10,053 yesterday. Thailand has managed to keep infection rates relatively low since the initial outbreak early last year.
While a large number of cases were migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, many were linked to illegal gambling dens and smuggling of Thais across the border.
Mr Anutin said public health officials at a meeting on Saturday raised concerns about gambling activities that continued unabated and people-smuggling, both of which could contribute to infections spreading further.
It was estimated about 200-300 Thais had illegally crossed the northern border to work at casinos and were seeking to return home after those venues were closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
He then proposed a tough stance against gamblers and illegal returnees who put a strain on the public health system and deprived others of medical attention as hospitals were forced to ration medical services.
"The money that is supposed to be spent to provide medical care to the public will be used to look after those who break the laws and who knows for how long and how much. And for how long other people will lose their income and opportunities?" he said.
Mr Anutin said while the communicable disease control law requires such people to bear the medical costs themselves, some argue that it goes against basic rights to healthcare under the charter.
"So the question is, should the government pay for treatment of the law-breakers, or it should pay and send the bills to those responsible for bringing in new patients?" he said.
"I'll discuss this issue with agencies concerned to deter irresponsible acts because they think it is the government's job to provide free medical treatment when they're ill."
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Saturday reported a total of 212 new Covid-19 cases, raising the cumulative total past 10,000 to 10,053, with no new deaths.
Of the new cases, 187 were local infections, six from active testing and 19 arrivals from abroad. The new round of infections spread to 58 provinces with Nong Bua Lam Phu joining the list.
According to the CCSA, health officials were monitoring a cluster linked to a cockfighting ring in Ang Thong.
A total of 101 cases were linked to this group and scattered in eight central provinces.
Meanwhile, national police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk travelled to Tak's Mae Sot district to inspect border controls, apparently sparked by a return of 40 Thai people from Myanmar in recent days.
The return of 40 Thais, 17 of them testing positive for the Covid-19, was reported by Mae Sot Doctor Facebook page, administrated by a doctor at Mae Sot Hospital in Tak.
The returnees had coordinated with local officials and were quarantined upon arrival.
It was estimated that more than 100 Thais were left stranded in Myanmar after the shutdown of casinos and entertainment venues in Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot district.
Local officials were reportedly considering setting up a field hospital and a local quarantine venue to accommodate returnees.
Chakarat Pitayawonganand, director of Bureau of Epidemiology, the Department of Disease Control, told a press conference that the public health authority is now alert to this case.
Security officials from both countries are in talks about how to control the situation after finding that an outbreak had already happened at the casino which employs 300 local and Thai staff.
The coordinating centre was set up to work with the Sky Complex Casino in Myawaddy town to ensure all Thai staff waiting for the chance to return to the kingdom are following proper legal procedures.
Meanwhile, rapid tests were conducted on 200 Thai staff and found that at least 13 cases are infected with the Sars-CoV-2 deadly virus.