Checkpoints with the kingdom’s western neighbour, except for Kanchanaburi province, remain open for now but provincial authorities have been ordered by the Interior Ministry in Bangkok to tighten checks and security on all incoming traffic. The government has also asked employers to hold off for now on importing migrant labour. It is also being reported that the strain of the escalating spread in Myanmar is more infectious.
On Sunday, it was announced that the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, has closed all border checkpoints into Thailand from Myanmar in Kanchanaburi province. Thailand’s army has been placed on a state of heightened alert along the kingdom’s extensive border with Myanmar with reports in the neighbouring country of an outbreak of Covid 19. This has brought with it fears among senior health officials that illegal entrants into Thailand may bring with them the virus.
There is intense army activity on the borders of Kanchanaburi, Phetchaburi and Ratchaburi province right now as the 9th Infantry Division of the Thai Army has ramped up checkpoints, searches and patrols to halt all illegal entry into Thailand from Myanmar as the Covid 19 virus in that country has reportedly begun to spiral out of control in one of its western provinces.
Accurate reports are sketchy in a fluid situation in a state with a significant minority Rohingya Muslim population. It has been confirmed that the outbreak has reached the Burmese city of Mawlamyine, just 270 kilometres from the Thai border.
The majority of the cases, however, are in the city of Sittwe, the state capital. There were 70 cases confirmed to hospitals on Wednesday last week there.
Dangerous Covid 19 strain reported
Worryingly, it is being reported that the strain of the virus is a new one. Also seen in Malaysia and linked with Europe, a strain of Covid-19 named D614G has been confirmed by a senior official in the Burmese health service. It is believed that this variant of the disease can be up to ten times more infectious.
The threat is a very real one according to Major General Thakad Lordsiri, the Commander of the 9th Infantry who is warning that reported cases of the Covid 19 infection have risen sharply across Thailand’s western border.
Major General Thakat has also reached out to local leaders including village heads to coordinate activities to guard against smugglers who may resort to using more than 20 natural crossings in the area near the Three Pagodas border checkpoint in north Kanchanaburi to infiltrate into Thailand especially in the process of drug trafficking.
Army units and security services in Mae Sot in Tak province are also mobilising.
Communicable disease boss warns of a new Covid 19 surge worldwide that can reach across the border
This threat has also been emphasised by the Head of the Communicable Disease Division of the Ministry of Public Health, Sophon Iamsirithavorn, who points out that Myanmar is not alone as many countries, across the world, are currently experiencing a resurgence of the virus.
The local population has been warned that, given the escalating reports from Rakhine state, the virus outbreak is worsening. It is critical to make sure that the virus does not enter Thailand.
The result would be devastation for the local economy in the province which is also a key tourist attraction.
Rakhine State is the threat within Myanmar
Myanmar has, up to now, had very few cases of the virus which before this outbreak, held at a figure lower than that of Thailand at 602. It is not known, however, if the country has been adequately testing for the disease.
Rakhine, a state on Myanmar’s western border, has just introduced a nighttime curfew from 9 pm to 4 am to combat the threat.
Border crossing points remain open for now across 19 Thai provinces but with tighter security
Although this state does not adjoin Thailand, the kingdom maintains an extended 2,400 km of a frontier with Myanmar.
The government has already reached out to business concerns in Thailand urging a halt to all import of labour from the country at this time.
The border crossing points between Myanmar and Thailand in nine provinces, excluding Kanchanaburi, remain open but the Ministry of the Interior is urging all provincial administrations to tighten security and checks on incoming passengers crossing over into Thailand linked with trade.
Thailand opened borders for trade on July 1st
Thailand has recorded 3,412 cases of the virus but the last case of local transmission was over three months ago with a death toll of 58.
All passengers entering Thailand, since the end of March, are subject to stringent entry criteria including 14 days state or alternative quarantine.
On July 1st, Thailand reopened its borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia for trade purposes.
However, officials on the Myanmar border at the still open checkpoints have been ordered to make sure that no person from Myanmar accompanies their goods across the border at this time as part of heightened security measures.