BANGKOK: Foreigners seeking clarification on the order published yesterday by the Minister of Public Health on social media designating 11 states and territories as high-risk zones and specifying mandatory self-quarantine for 14 days. The post was later deleted and it is now being reported that the page has been removed or closed down. The Thai army is to be deployed as a contingency to deal with returning Thai workers from South Korea as the government establishes disease control areas under existing legislation. Chinese scientists have also finally confirmed what many have suspected, the coronavirus has mutated and there are two distinct strains, one more aggressive than the other.

Questions were raised yesterday following a Facebook post by the Minister of Public Health which contained an announcement of high-risk zones and new quarantine provisions affecting arrivals from a total of 11 countries and states. On Wednesday, the Thai Prime Minister announced a range of new measures designed to deal with the threat posed by an expected influx of Thai nationals from South Korea who have already begun to return to the kingdom in higher numbers. Special disease control areas are to be established for passengers showing symptoms and all other passengers must quarantine for 14 days. It is being reported that the Thai 2nd army in the Northeast may be deployed and is awaiting further clarification from General Prayut who is also Thailand’s Defence Minister.

The Thai government on Wednesday announced a range of measures which seemed tailored to counteract the threat posed by between 5,000 and 10,000 returning Thai workers from South Korea. This includes the establishment of disease control areas as well as quarantine requirements with stricter provisions for those returning from Daegu City and North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. Lieutenant General Thanya Kiatsarn (inset left) of the Thai 2nd Army said that 10 military hospitals were ready in the northeast but was awaiting clarification from the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha who is also Defence Minister. Meanwhile, foreigners from 11 high-risk countries and territories are awaiting formal clarification of an announcement by the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul (inset right) on his Facebook account on Tuesday which was subsequently deleted concerning quarantine requirements for nine high-risk countries and 2 territories.

The Thai government met on Wednesday and agreed on a series of measures to counteract any threat posed by an expected influx of 5,000 to 10,000 migrant workers from South Korea, one of the world’s most infected countries outside China in relation to the deadly coronavirus, Convid 19, which Chinese scientists have just announced has mutated.

The meeting and announcement came less than 24 hours after the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, announced the designation of 11 high-risk zones including 9 countries and 2 territories from where passengers would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days even without exhibiting symptoms.

The countries named were China, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Germany, France, Singapore and Japan as well as the territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Minster’s Facebook post reported as deleted and page closed on Wednesday by Thai media

However, hours after the minister appeared to announce the measures on Facebook, the post was deleted and since then, it is reported that the Facebook page associated with the announcement has also been deleted or closed according to Thailand’s popular Daily News newspaper.

The measures announced today by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha appear to be targeted primarily at the return of Thai nationals from South Korea which was believed to have been the focus and trigger for the announcement yesterday by the Minister of Public Health.

The threat posed by Thai migrants workers in South Korea has sparked panic-buying at home

The threat posed by the returning migrant workers, who are mostly illegal and known affectionately in Thailand as ‘little ghosts’ because of their humble and undocumented status, has gripped the imagination of the public in recent days.

Some evidence of panic buying has been recorded in shops in Thailand for the first time. 

The kingdom has been relatively mildly impacted by the virus threat considering its proximity to China. Thailand still has only 43 infections with one reported death.

Mandatory quarantine under government control for all returnees from Daegu and North Gyeongsang

On Wednesday, the measures announced by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha included a mandatory quarantine period at government-controlled facilities for all Thai nationals arriving from the epicentre of the outbreak in South Korea which is Daegu and also those within North Gyeongsang province which surrounds that city.

Thai army to be deployed to protect the health system

It is understood that the Thai army may be involved in the operation as a key concern of ministers is to not overburden Thailand’s extensive public health system, which unlike some western countries, is operating normally despite the ongoing virus threat and high level of risk.

10 military hospitals in the northeast operated by Thailand’s 2nd Army ready for use by authorities

On Wednesday, Lieutenant General Thanya Kiatsarn of Thailand’s 2nd Amy said that military units had 10 military hospitals in that army’s service area which is concentrated on the northeast region of Thailand.

He said that the army was ready to help deal with the crisis and was awaiting further clarification from General Prayut who is also the Minister of Defence.

17 returnees detained for quarantine as Thai airports in one day at the kingdom’s main airports

The measures announced today also include a management centre to deal with this aspect of the outbreak.

A survey on Tuesday, March 3rd, of 158 Thai returnees from South Korea, at the three main airports, showed that 17 were found to have high fevers and were taken into care for observation and testing for the virus.

The remaining Thai nationals were advised by the Immigration Bureau that they must self-quarantine for 14 days.

Government emphasizes that Thailand is still in a containment phase of its campaign against this virus

It is being emphasised by the government that the new measures to deal with this threat do not represent an escalation of Thailand’s situation which is still at Phase 2 or a containment phase to prevent a general outbreak which, fortunately for the kingdom, has not materialised.

The measures have been taken are governed by the Communicable Disease Act of 2015 and following the designation earlier this month of the coronavirus as a dangerous disease under Thai law.

This allows the government to establish disease control areas where those suspected of having the virus will be detained for quarantine and treatment purposes.

Clarification required for foreigners on the 11 states and territories listed yesterday in minster’s order

For foreigners, especially from those countries listed in the minister’s order published yesterday online, there seems to be further clarification required.

Based on what has been reported, it appears that passengers from the 11 danger zones are required to self-quarantine for 14 days while those exhibiting symptoms of the disease may be detained.

However, despite the minister’s announcement yesterday which suggested this, there has been no reference to the regime to be applied to other countries in the list and passengers who are not Thai nationals returning to the kingdom, in today’s announcements.

It should also be noted that the minister’s announcement yesterday stated the new regulations would only become effective when promulgated officially on Thailand’s Royal Gazette.

Those displaying symptoms will be taken into a government disease control areas for quarantine

On Wednesday, the prime minister underlined that anyone exhibiting symptoms would be taken into one the disease control areas or facilities being established by Tha authorities.

He indicated that the government was still working on different facilities for this purpose but that all would be monitored by qualified doctors and medical personnel.

The treatment regime established for 138 Thai nationals evacuated from Wuhan in early February has been referenced by the government as a model.

It is accepted that this will be on a far larger scale and less controlled environment.

Prime Minister warns against fake news

The PM warned against fake news and information designed to panic the public. He said that the government was working to keep Thailand safe and also peaceful on a step by step basis.

He also reminded the public that an issue of equal concern to the government was the current drought affecting Thailand’s farms.

Minister leads a raid on grocery shop to show the government’s determination to cull false reports

His comments come as Thai police in Bangkok, accompanied personally by Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, arrested a grocery store owner in the Huai Khwang district of Bangkok for spreading fake news after he reported a death from the virus at a local mall.

The shop keeper said that he intended only to warn people and that he did remind the readers on his Facebook page that he was not sure of the report.

The trader now faces prosecution under Thailand’s draconian Computer Crime Act for uploading false information that may cause panic and faces up to 5 years imprisonment.

For now, the government is readying itself the influx of Thai nationals from South Korea where authorities have offered an amnesty to illegal Thai immigrants if they leave the country by June 30th.

Virus has mutated – Chinese scientists

On Wednesday also, the Chinese academy of scientists in conjunction with Peking University and Shanghai University, confirmed that the coronavirus had already mutated and that there were two strains, one designed L and linked with the SARS virus was more severe and aggressive while the other, designated as type S, was milder.  

There are currently over 93,000 infected people around the world with recorded deaths so far of over 3,200. Although the World Health Organisation stresses that no confirmed mortality rate has been arrived at yet, these two statistics indicate a death rate of over 3.4% between the two types of virus. 

The Chinese research suggests that its conclusion on the two strains of the virus have only been reached after studying 103 samples and more extensive research is still required.

Further reading:

Strong indications that Thailand will introduce high-risk zones and mandatory quarantine orders

Health Minister in an outburst against western foreigners as 7 more are infected by the coronavirus

Investigation into the death of a 35-year-old man from the virus as foreign passengers detained

Government adopts a carrot and stick approach to student protests with the first coronavirus death in Thailand

Ministry officials scramble to undo the damage of potential virus super spreader who lied to doctors

Tourism minister predicts higher temperatures will help to bring an end to the coronavirus threat

Thai health boss strongly warns against public protests or political gatherings at this critical time