The outbreak at the shrimp market in Samut Sakhon has shone the spotlight on migrant labour in Thailand where over 90% of those working in the shrimp industry in the area were non-Thais. It has also amplified warnings, earlier in the month, from the Immigration Bureau chief who reported large numbers of migrants crossing illegally into Thailand and a roaring human trafficking trade.
As the number of Covid infections detected among migrant labourers continues to rise in Samut Sakhon and with at least nine cases in adjacent provinces being reported including Bangkok, Thai public health officials, on Sunday, still struck a confident tone saying the cluster emanating from the Mahachai Market in Samut Sakhon will be brought under control in a matter of weeks.
Thai public health officials have confirmed that the Covid 19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon has spread to neighbouring provinces with at least nine cases being reported on Sunday in Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Suphan Buri and Ratchaburi.
However, officials were still confident that this outbreak can be contained as so far, nearly all infections have been confined to and related to the busy Mahachai Market for shrimp in Samut Sakhon.
78-year-old shrimp trader in Bangkok reported to hospital on Friday last in Bang Sue district
One case reported on Sunday is that of a 78-year-old shrimp trader who visited the market daily from Bangkok up to December 11th last.
The woman lives in the Bang Sue district of the capital and on Friday, presented herself at the Kasemrad Hospital for a health examination after she suffered headaches and began losing her appetite over the course of the previous week.
On Sunday migrant workers infected rose to 694
Back in Samut Sakhon, Dr Kiatiphum Wongrajit, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health has confirmed that tests on 10,000 migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar, are still progressing.
The Deputy Provincial Governor, Surasak Polyangsong, on Sunday raised the number of workers infected to 694 and it is predicted that it will go higher again.
Officials confident of containing the outbreak
Dr Kiatiphum explained on Sunday that one of the reasons that officials are confident is that, despite the depth of the outbreak among migrant workers, experts feel, as of now, that the community is isolated enough not to have infected the wider population in Samut Sakhon where there are high-density populated areas.
‘The chance for the virus to spread to Thais is limited because they stay in their community and usually do not travel far from where they live,’ the permanent secretary explained to the media.
Government officials are expecting to have the situation fully under control by January 3rd next or within the first week of the new year.
Growing problem of illegal migrants secretly entering Thailand from neighbouring countries
However, the outbreak is bound to focus attention further, even though it had already been shifting, to the growing problem of illegal migrants entering Thailand from all neighbouring countries with reports that cross border smuggling gangs have been doing a roaring trade due to the country’s border shutdown to protect the kingdom against Covid 19.
In Chiang Rai on Sunday, at a local seminar to mark Migrants Day, it was disclosed that there may be currently 100,000 Myanmar nationals waiting to enter Thailand to work.
Suebsakun Kidnukorn, a local academic, said that in Chiang Rai alone, there were 24,000 registered migrant workers and pointed out that this figure excluded those working illegally, their elderly relatives and children.
He urged Thai authorities to look at some way to let the workers enter legally and safely.
Only 10% of workers at the shrimp market were Thai
This comes as it has been revealed that only 10% of the workforce at the Mahachai Market and associated concerns linked with the shrimp industry in the province were Thai nationals.
Earlier, in December, Lieutenant General Sompong Chingduang, the Immigration Bureau boss, announced that since May this year, his agency had detected 6,421 people illegally entering across Thailand’s borders from neighbouring countries.
He highlighted one case where the Chonburi office of the Immigration Bureau had arrested three Thai men for running a lucrative network both importing and exporting workers from Thailand across the border into Cambodia.
They told police that they charged ฿2,500 to ferry people to Cambodia and ฿3,000 to bring people across from the neighbouring country.
Migrants crossing over running from crackdowns in other countries driven by Covid 19 fears
The same trade is being operated by gangs on Thailand’s borders with other countries such as Malaysia, Myanmar and Laos.
At the start of the month, seven Vietnamese migrants were arrested in Narathiwat province, two men and five women, after they were found crossing over the border from Malaysia.
They had paid people smugglers to escape Malaysia and a massive crackdown in that country on illegal migrant labour because of the current threat posed by the Covid 19 virus.