Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said that the women who tested positive for the Covid-19 virus this week in the northern provinces do not deserve sympathy after they broke the law and caused damage to the country. He is insisting that rigorous legal action against them will be taken, where possible, under the Immigration Act, emergency provisions and the laws governing the spread of communicable diseases, at this time. The controversy and scare is also firm evidence that senior Thai officials may be justified in keeping the country’s borders firmly closed to mass tourism for now until the situation is controlled.
The Minister of Public Health has vented his anger and promised retribution against a group of Thai women who illegally entered Thailand last week and have undermined the kingdom’s fight against the Covid-19 virus threat after four have already tested positive in the northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. The Deputy Prime Minister said the women had damaged the country and set plans to reopen its borders back by their ‘selfish’ actions which have left authorities reeling.
Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, has lashed out at a group of Thai women who entered Thailand, early last week, from Myanmar carrying the Covid-19 virus. The minister has vowed that the women will face the full rigour of the law.
‘These selfish people caused trouble to so many other Thai people. They caused national damage and do not deserve sympathy,’ the minister said at Government House on Tuesday following a cabinet meeting.
Wave of security operations across the north
He revealed that the women, four of whom have, so far, tested positive since Friday last, prompting a wave of security and health operations including ramped up border surveillance and mass testing in provincial districts where the women frequented, have effectively scotched plans by the government to reopen the country further.
‘We were about to reopen the country, but easing measures must be revised now,’ he said.
Women had all gone to work in the growing nightlife industry as karaoke bar hostesses in the Myanmar town of Tachileik in the notorious Golden triangle
Details of the latest woman to test positive were given by the Permanent Secretary of Public Health, Kiattiphum Wongrajit and the Director of the Communicable Disease Department, Sophon Iamsirithavorn, on Tuesday.
The woman was one of the scores of women who had illegally crossed over to Myanmar, some months ago, to work in the town of Tachileik in Shan State, part of the Golden Triangle.
The town is developing a growing reputation, with its busy casinos and an assortment of sordid karaoke bars promoting the sort of nightlife that has been severely curtailed in Thailand this year because of the Covid 19 crisis and the country’s closed borders to mass tourism.
The strong links between Tachileik and Thailand can be understood from the fact that the Thai baht is the preferred currency among local traders and business owners.
Women decided to return to Thailand to find work, two were heading for Pattaya when intercepted
In the last months, many of these Thai women had decided to return and used a natural border entry point between Myanmar and Thailand near Mae Sai. Over a dozen women were arrested, in a few days at the beginning of last week, all crossing at the same point.
It is reported that the women who entered the kingdom last week paid between ฿3,500 and ฿6,500 to be smuggled back into Thailand to cross border smuggling gangs.
One of the gangs, according to the Governor Of Chiang Rai province, Prachon Pratsaku, is directly linked to the first woman diagnosed with the Covid 19 virus on Friday, November 28th after crossing into Thailand on Tuesday, November 24th.
At least two of the women were planning to travel to Bangkok and on to Pattaya to find work after reports reached them of improved economic conditions at home while working in Myanmar.
The two women were arrested off a bus bound for the capital.
Virus in Myanmar poses a real challenge for the Thai government and any plans to reopen for tourism
Mr Sophon told a press conference that the fourth woman was confirmed as suffering from the disease on Tuesday morning while two others were confirmed on Monday. All had arrived in Thailand from Tachileik where the virus is still rampant.
The incident, even if it can be controlled, highlights a growing headache for Thai authorities as the rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths in neighbouring Myanmar has grown exponentially in recent weeks.
Infections in Myanmar, where nearly 2,000 people have died from the virus, have risen by nearly 70% in the last month.
The potential links between these women and Thailand’s former tourist hotspots, which were also the areas that suffered the highest levels of infection during the crisis in Thailand, earlier this year, is clear and is another justification for the government’s hard-line in keeping the country’s borders to mass tourism firmly closed for now.
Latest infected woman stayed in hotels in Mae Sai and Chiang Rai before seeking medical help
The latest woman diagnosed with the disease stayed in a hotel in Mae Sai from the 24th to the 27th November and ordered takeout food delivered by the Grab courier service.
The woman then moved to a hotel in Chiang Rai where she stayed from Friday the 28th November until Monday 30th when she sought medical treatment and a Covid-19 test.
The woman was immediately quarantined and sent to Phrachanukhoh Hospital.
Two other women, among an initial group of six arrested, have so far tested negative but officials are closely monitoring their conditions.
Women face prosecution under immigration laws, disease control act and emergency powers warns a livid minister who ordered officials to pursue charges
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin, told reporters on Tuesday that he was taking a personal interest in the case and had ordered all possible legal action against the women under a range of laws.
His officials were currently liaising with the Governors of both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces.
‘Officials will exercise all sections of relevant laws including those relating to immigration and communicable diseases, and the 14-day quarantine requirement, in taking legal action,’ he said.
Maximum possible damage by their actions
Minister Anutin was particularly annoyed with the flagrant disregard for the safety of others displayed by the women who, after arriving in Thailand illegally, spent days visiting restaurants, shopping malls and public places such as a cinema as well as meeting with friends.
This made the job of officials trying to track them more difficult and aggravated the extent of the risk to the public.
The minister also warned that the hotels, where the women had stayed, may also face legal trouble from authorities.
‘The operators of their hotels may also face legal action for failing to inform authorities of the arrival of suspicious customers,’ he said.