The Head of the Immigration Bureau, Lieutenant General Sompong Chingduan, has issued a call for immediate action on the border as, so far, over 320 people linked to the 29-year old Thai woman who entered Thailand illegally and later tested positive for Covid-19 have been identified with tests ongoing among those closest to her. At least one is understood to have had symptoms. The Governor of Chiang Rai is reported to have passed on information to police in the province linking a smuggling gang led by a foreigner to the woman. On Monday, the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha issued a statement urging the public not to panic and to have confidence in local authorities in the region working to contain the current threat.
Thai security forces along the border with Myanmar are cracking down on a rampant cross border people smuggling trade linked to a Thai woman who tested positive for Covid-19 in Chiang Mai on Friday morning. The woman, who worked in a karaoke bar in Myanmar, had entered Thailand on the 23rd and 24th November illegally. Over the weekend, four other Thai nationals were arrested in Mae Sai, near the Thai Myanmar border crossing, after police discovered they had also entered the kingdom surreptiously. The two were women, also karaoke bar hostesses, on their way to find work in Pattaya. On Monday, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha urged the Thai public not to panic if more cases of infection emerge, saying the situation was being controlled.
Thai authorities in the north are scrambling to tighten security on the kingdom’s border with Myanmar after a Thai woman, suspected of illegally entering the kingdom on November 24th, tested positive for the Covid-19 virus three days later at a hospital in Chiang Mai.
The PM said that the relevant agencies in northern Thailand are working hard to contain the situation which has developed. He urged people to come forward to authorities in the region if they have any information but also expressed confidence that any potential threat was being tracked down by officials.
The scare in the border region has prompted the Governor of Chiang Rai province, Prachon Pratsaku, to pass on intelligence about a smuggling gang operating on the border to police forces in Chiang Rai. The Governor has told police authorities that the leader of the gang, a foreigner, is linked to the woman at the centre of the recent scare.
Over 320 people in contact with the woman who tested positive for the virus after illegal border crossing
The Director of the Communicable Disease Department of the Ministry of Public Health, Sophon Iamsirithavorn, has said that authorities believe that the infected woman may have come into contact with over 320 people during her three days in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai much of which she spent with friends first at a karaoke bar, then at a condominium in the city and later, a number of shopping centres including restaurants and a movie theatre.
65 people, deemed as high risk and who were in close proximity to the woman, were tested and isolated in either state quarantine facilities or at home following an intensive investigation into the case which is still ongoing.
Shopping malls, karaoke bar and other locations cleaned on Saturday as officials track her moves
On Saturday, the karaoke bar where the woman partied with friends, the shopping centres as well as a cinema and transport vehicles were thoroughly disinfected resulting in the early closure of the malls from 4 pm until Sunday morning.
This came as Thai contact tracking experts interviewed the woman to identify where she had been and who she had come into contact with in Chiang Mai from the 24th to the 26th November when, among other things, she partied into the early hours with friends at a private condominium after travelling from the karaoke bar.
The next day, the 29-year-old went shopping, dined out and took in a movie before attending hospital at 3.30 pm on Thursday, November 26th.
Her positive diagnosis was confirmed a day later.
The young woman reportedly had striking symptoms of the disease even before she left Myanmar for Thailand on Monday 23rd November including diarrhoea, loss of taste and smell.
Provincial officials reluctant to close border crossings which are vital to local trade and the economy
Authorities in the northern provinces have been reluctant to close the key border crossings with Myanmar such as the Thai Myanmar Friendship Bridge in the Mae Sai district because of the importance of the link to cross border trade and the local economy.
The bridge, constructed 40 years ago, sees up to 1.5 million people crossing it every year.
However, authorities in Bangkok, including the Head of The Immigration Bureau, Lieutenant General Sompong Chingduang and the Prime Minister, have urged local officials to take further action over the incident which has thrown a spotlight on illegal people smuggling on the Thai Myanmar border.
Thriving people smuggling trade between Thailand and Myanmar at remote jungle and river points
There are reports that many Thai nationals, in recent months, have travelled to Myanmar for work in the entertainment and nightlife industry but, lately, have decided to return home.
Many are crossing back into the kingdom with the assistance of smuggling gangs who are believed to be charging between ฿3,500 to ฿5,000 per person to guide both returning Thai nationals and illegal migrants from Myanmar entering Thailand covertly through remote jungle and river crossing points.
The Thai woman, at the centre of the controversy, who tested positive for the virus is believed to have worked at a karaoke bar in Myanmar for one month before she decided to return to Thailand.
She entered the kingdom on the 24th of November with a friend and caught a bus from Mae Sai in Chiang Rai to Chaing Mai. Her friend, who accompanied her on the crossing and subsequent bus journey, was later reported to have had symptoms of the disease.
Immigration chief has ordered even stronger measures as more reports of illegal crossings emerge
In the last 24 hours, the Immigration Bureau boss, Lieutenant General Sompong has ordered even stronger and more responsive action after a viral online story emerged on social media of returnees from Myanmar boasting of their exploits after entering Thailand by clandestine means.
Two women were held at a checkpoint while travelling as passengers on a bus from Mae Sai to Bangkok last Thursday at 7 pm. Both of the women, aged 28 and 29 years of age, had worked as karaoke bar hostesses in Myanmar.
The pair told police that they had worked across the border for the last two months and had also originally entered Myanmar in secret across the Moei River in the Mae Sot district of Tak province.
Karaoke hostesses moving from Myanmar to Pattaya
The pair decided to return to Thailand due to tightening economic conditions in Myanmar alongside reports of an improved situation in Thailand. The two women paid ฿5,500 each to be ferried back into Thailand by people smugglers.
The duo appeared to have entered Thailand on Monday 23rd November and had been planning to travel to Pattaya after spending some days with friends in Mae Sai.
Police also arrested a 31-year-old woman and a 29-year-old man at a local hotel in Mae Sai who are also believed to have entered the kingdom illegally. They had intended travelling on to Chiang Mai.
Sophisticated drones, increased lighting and cameras
Thai security services including border patrol police, local forces and the military, have ramped up patrols along the border with Myanmar over the past 72 hours and officials are liaising with their counterparts on the other side of the border to address the situation
Colonel Samrit Chatwattanasakul of the Pha Muang Task Force confirmed this to the media on Sunday.
He said that the army was deploying sophisticated drone technology as well as installing more cameras and lighting to halt illegal crossings while police are also implementing a crackdown on known gangs operating illicit cross border operations.