BANGKOK: Dramatic events in which 158 Thai passengers rebelled against emergency quarantine orders at Suvarnabhumi Airport. The shocking scenes led to the Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand issuing an order to halt all inbound flights until April 5th and to notify all flights en route that passengers would be subject to 14 days state quarantine as announced by the PM on Thursday under the 2005 emergency decree-law in his live TV broadcast.

Thailand has banned all incoming passenger flights in an emergency order for three days after a 4-hour standoff and commotion at Suvarnabhumi Airport last night when 158 passengers from Japan, Singapore and Qatar rebelled against a 14-day state quarantine order and curfew. Many complained that they had no prior notification. On Saturday, the Prime Minister ordered that 152 passengers who defied security officers on Friday night and escaped from the airport be tracked down and arrested for defying the emergency decree.

The Prime Minister on Saturday ordered a list of those among 158 passengers who escaped from Suvarnabhumi Airport last night as a scene broke out when travellers arriving on five flights from three countries refused initially to enter into state quarantine for 14 days claiming they had no prior notification. The incident, which lasted for nearly four hours, prompted Thailand’s Civil Aviation Authority to shut down Thailand’s airspace to incoming flights until April 5th.

The Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha is reported on Saturday to be deeply disturbed at the outbreak of confusion at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Friday night when 158 returning Thai nationals on five flights from three countries staged a rebellion against the country’s tight new policies including a requirement that all arrivals must go into state quarantine for 14 days.

It is understood that most passengers eventually stormed through airport security and defeated efforts to restrain them at the airport.

They now face the prospect of arrest and prosecution under the terms of the state of emergency for disobeying a government instruction and also for breaching last night’s curfew which was in effect when the passengers landed at the airport and escaped from the terminal.

On Saturday, some reports suggest that the military officer at the scene allowed the passengers to leave at the conclusion of the standoff.

‘The PM has ordered national security officials as well as military, police and public health staff to compile a list of all passengers causing commotion last night and to track down all passengers who are still unaccounted for,’ said a source on Saturday at Government House.

Incident began as passengers retrieved their bags from the carousel after landing home

At 2 am, only 6 passengers of the arriving passengers relented after the crowd offered strong and boisterous resistance to security officials and guards at the airport just after they went to retrieve their baggage on landing and discovered, to their consternation, that they were being taken into government quarantine.

The other 152 passengers made their way out of the airport sparking huge concern at Government House on Saturday.

The 158 passengers were aboard flight JL 31 from Japan which accounted for 31, flights TG 641 and NH 847 also from Japan which carried 34 passengers, Flight SQ 976 for Singapore with 44 aboard and 11 on flight GR 832 for Qatar.

Civil Aviation Authority cancelled all inbound flights until April 5th in an emergency order signed by the Director-General overnight to avoid further incidents

The incident drew swift and decisive action from the government fearing similar eruptions. All incoming flights were cancelled by an order signed by the Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority, Chula Sukmanop.

The order cited Sections 27 and 28 of the Air Navigation Act and gave as the reason efforts to control the Covid 19 virus. 

The emergency order halts all incoming flights to Thailand except for military planes, cargo planes and other aircraft not carrying commercial passengers.

The order also gave notice to any aircraft already en route or inflight that passengers will be required to be quarantined for 14 days and would be taken into state facilities on arrival.

Section 9 of the Emergency Decree Act of 2005 was cited as authority for the order.

Some passengers returning from the US travelling via Japan among those involved in the tense scene

It is reported that some of the returnees on the flights were also from the United States having made connections in Japan and Singapore to get home.

The 158 Thai nationals comprised, for the most part, of people who simply wanted to be at home in the current crisis gripping the world.

The travellers, some who had travelled on a long flight from Japan and even longer on prior legs, were looking forward to reaching home when they were hit by the shocking news that they faced 14 days as a guest of the state.

New measures announced by the PM on Thursday

The new measures were introduced on Thursday when the Prime Minister made his speech announcing the 10 pm to 4 am curfew. 

One of the main drivers of the virus that has been identified in recent weeks has been Thais returning home from infected countries.

On Monday night, a Thai Muslim man returning from Islamabad in Pakistan died on a southbound train and was later reported to be infected with the Covid 19 virus.

Passengers complained that they had no notice

The 158 passengers late on Friday night complained vociferously that they had no prior notice of these arrangements and that this was an unacceptable infringement of their liberties. 

The gathered crowd, on the verge of becoming a mob as tensions threatened to boil over, were then told by a security official that they were not at liberty to leave the airport building first because they were required to obey the instructions of authorised personnel as they were subject to a quarantine order and secondly that a curfew had come into force from 10 pm.

The crowd used their smartphones to record the announcement made by the senior military officer named on Saturday as Major General Kosol Choojai and made angry retorts as they were briefed by officials.

Security officers meanwhile blocked their progress within the airport until they eventually gave way to the majority of the crowd. 

Chaos and standoff at the airport

The shocking news produced a chaotic scene at the airport as the arrivals fell into a state of panic and refused to comply.

The security officer explained that he was simply ‘taking orders from the government’ and that they had no option but to comply.

It is understood that at one point, the crowd made for the exits and this produced a state of commotion which some of the passengers used to escape the government quarantine. The majority simply walked out later refusing to obey the quarantine order. 

These are being listed and will be tracked down on strict orders from Government House and may face criminal prosecution.

On Saturday, a government spokesman Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin confirmed that 152 passengers are still at large and an operation is being mounted against them.

The strict measures announced by the prime minister on Thursday remain in place until April 15th at the earliest.

Six passengers relented at 2 am and were taken away in a bus to a hotel property being used for quarantine

At 2 am, some passengers finally calmed down and in the face of determined officials, finally agreed to be taken into quarantine.

They were escorted onto waiting bus which took them to a hotel being used for quarantine purposes.

The tumultuous scene had frayed nerves on both sides of a standoff that lasted for fours hours.

Perhaps at that point, the 6 compliant, shocked and jet-lagged passengers simply wanted to put their head down for the night. It may not have been at home but at least they were back in Thailand.

Further reading:

‘Zero’ – nationwide curfew announced on TV by the PM as the government steps up virus fight

24-hour curfew in the works as the government puts curbs on national travel with checkpoints on roads

Emergency could be extended as more people present themselves at hospitals due to the coronavirus

Another record rise in infections on Monday as top virologist predicts widespread transmission in Thailand