Rising border fears of virus spill

Rising border fears of virus spill

An official checks the temperatures of illegal Myanmar migrants rounded up near the border in Sangkhla Buri district of Kanchanaburi on Sunday. (Photo: Piyarach Chongcharoen)
An official checks the temperatures of illegal Myanmar migrants rounded up near the border in Sangkhla Buri district of Kanchanaburi on Sunday. (Photo: Piyarach Chongcharoen)

Security along all borders is at its highest amid fears that coronavirus cases from neighbouring countries could enter Thailand and deepen the already critical Covid-19 outbreak that has the death toll climbing at an alarming rate.

The most serious concern centres on the border with Myanmar in Kanchanaburi, where there is an ongoing influx of illegal job seekers, but the alert also extends to the other land frontiers. 

"Authorities are intensifying border checks with Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos,"  Apisamai Srirangson, a spokeswoman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said on Monday.

Along the 370 kilometre border in Kanchanaburi, almost 300 people from Myanmar were caught illegally crossing into Thailand last week. Covid-19 remains unchecked in Myanmar.

The army's Surasi Task Force based in Kanchanburi and Interior Ministry officials in the province report that while many had been fleeing the political crisis in their home country, the ease of getting work at factories in Samut Sakhon, Ratchaburi, Nakhon Pathom and Chon Buri enticed many others to gamble on sneaking into Thailand. 

Task Force commander Maj Gen Banyong Thongnuam said 40 illegal migrants captured on Sunday had come from as far as Yangon, walking for about a week to reach the Thai border.

Maj Gen Banyong and other authorities reported the illegal job seekers followed the same pattern as other groups. Recruiters in Myanmar delivered them to an area near Kanchanburi, and they were then led across the frontier by guides to meeting points where Thai agents would deliver them to factory jobs. (continues below)

Soldiers patrol the border with Malaysia in Sadao district of Sogkhla on Monday. (Photo supplied/ Wassana Nanuam)

A Myanmar migrant who  dentified himself only as Bao said after he and 37 others had been apprehended on Friday that each had to pay the delivery man 15,000 baht when they reached their destinations.

Kanchanaburi governor Jirakiat Phumsawad held a meeting on Saturday, calling for urgent action to end the influx. He said Thailand was already battered enough by the latest surge of the coronavirus virus.

Myanmar has reported more than 140,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths since the pandemic began last year.

On the southern border, Malaysia has reported detecting new coronavirus variants first identified in South Africa and India and regarded as highly contagious.

Songkhla governor Jaruwat Kliengklao said on Monday a recent meeting with the 4th Army  Region leadership had agreed to deploy soldiers, police, district officials and volunteers along the entire border with Malaysia.

Malaysia said on Sunday it had detected its first case of the variant from India, while the New Straits Times reported on Monday that Kalantan state, which connects with Narathiwat, had found 10 cases of the South African variant on Sunday.

Col Ayuphan Kannasutra, the commander of a task force in Songkhla, said patrols would operate around the clock. Authorities were concerned that some Thais could illegally cross back over the border from Malaysia to visit their families as Ramadan comes to an end.

Most Thai returnees pass through the checkpoint in Sadao district of Songkhla, which allows them to cross three days a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey province also reported a record number of Covid-19 cases on Monday, the Khmer Times reported, citing the sub-committee for Covid-19 tracing without giving the figures. So far the province, which borders Sa Kaeo, has detected 412 cases.

A Thai man returning from Cambodia on April 22 tested positive on Saturday, the CCSA said on Monday. 

"We are determining the variant of the virus," Dr Apisamai said. The patient is at a hospital in Sa Kaeo.

Although Thailand had only one imported case on Monday, the country reported 31 deaths, a new daily high, and 2,041 new cases.

In Laos, Bokeo province, opposite Chiang Rai, on Sunday recorded 60 new cases, a new record for the province, 57 of them in Tonphueng district, the Vientiane Times reported.

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