Porous borders 'our biggest threat'

Porous borders 'our biggest threat'

Experts fear 'Indian strain' of virus being sneaked in

Forty-nine Myanmar job seekers are caught near a village in Kanchanaburi's Muang district after sneaking across the border on Tuesday morning. (Photo by Piyarat Chongcharoen)
Forty-nine Myanmar job seekers are caught near a village in Kanchanaburi's Muang district after sneaking across the border on Tuesday morning. (Photo by Piyarat Chongcharoen)

Health experts have expressed concern over the coronavirus variant first identified in India being carried into Thailand unchecked by illegal migrants, saying border security needs to be heightened.

"What is worrying us now is the possible arrival of this new coronavirus variant through the country's border areas, given the fact that more than 15,000 illegal migrant have sneaked in over the past four months," said Prof Dr Prasit Watanapa, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital.

"So, it is now very critical to step up security measures along the borders shared with Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia," he said. "The Thai-Lao border isn't as much of a concern."

Dr Prasit said the most likely route for the B.1.617.1 variant from India to enter Thailand was through the subcontinent and then Myanmar. If unchecked, the variant would then be just one week away from sneaking into Thailand.

He was responding to the country's first confirmed infection of the B.1.617.1 variant of the coronavirus, found in a 42-year-old woman who had gone into state quarantine after returning from Pakistan.

After lab tests confirmed on Sunday that the woman had the highly dangerous variant of Covid-19 she was transferred to Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital for treatment.

Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, on Tuesday echoed Dr Prasit's caution over the possibility of the worrying variant spreading into Thailand through illegal migration and urged everyone living in the border areas to be alert for illegal migrants and to immediately report any sightings to authorities.

Details about the B.1.617.1 variant are still sketchy, so it is not yet known how much more resistant it is to vaccines and how virulent and contagious it actually is, he said.

Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, also admitted that the prospect of illegal border crossings was worrying public health authorities.

This month alone, 1,218 illegal migrants had so far been detained by Tuesday, most of them from Myanmar and Cambodia, he said.

Dr Opas also called for heightened border security and urged local residents to help the authorities to stamp out illegal crossings.

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