Market vendors say they're being made Covid scapegoats
Officials have extended closures but those affected are crying foul, writes Pongpat Wongyala in Pathum Thani
Vendors at two closed wet markets in Thanyaburi district at the centre of a Covid cluster are unhappy with the authorities' decision to extend the closures, saying the infections are not all linked to them.
Pornpat and Suchart markets in tambon Prachathipat were closed on Friday and due to reopen on Wednesday but the closure was instead extended until next Thursday.
Pannee Paophan, a noodle vendor at Pornpat market, said on Wednesday that vendors and labourers there would be hit hard by the extended closure because they had no income but still had to buy food and pay their household bills.
Their landlords were not discounting the rent, she said, and the market owners were not providing any assistance to vendors who rented their stalls but could no longer work from them.
Ms Pannee also complained about the setting-up of a Covid-19 screening point at Pornpat.
Everyone working there had already been tested, she said, but officials were now taking anyone who lived nearby for Covid testing.
When infections were detected, they were wrongly reported as having come from Pornpat market, she said, yet there were no new infections at the market and the number of positive tests had been small, she said.
The misleading reports about the rise in Covid-19 cases, numbering 200-300, at the market scared people away, she said.
Ms Pannee aired her grievances to reporters as Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was visiting the market.
A fishball vendor at Suchart market, who gave his name as Onn, 53, backed Ms Pannee's claims, saying everyone working at the markets had been checked for Covid-19 in the first round of testing.
Later, he said, factory workers living near the markets were also tested and whey were found to be infected their infections were reported as originating at the markets.
Only about 1,000 people work at Suchart market, he said, yet authorities announced that more than 3,000 people had been tested there. Most of them were in fact from elsewhere, said Mr Onn.
He called for state agencies to look into the plight of people affected by the extended closure of the two markets and said he feared that if more infections were found, they would be closed for even longer.
"The authorities initially told us that the markets would be closed for five days, but now the closure has been extended for nine more days. I want to ask what the vendors will eat. We are suffering now,'' Mr Onn said.
During his visit to Pornpat market, Mr Anutin said provincial authorities had done their best to stop the spread of the Covid-19 cluster.
Pathum Thani governor Chaiwat Chuenkosum said on Wednesday he had put Pol Lt-Gen Kamronwit Toopkrajang, chairman of the provincial administration organisation, in charge of controlling the local outbreak.
When vaccines arrive, he said, people at the two markets would be inoculated.
Wednesday morning, at least 50 people were seen queueing for Covid tests at Pornpat market.
The governor said officials could test 1,000 people a day.