More helicopter flights over key districts in southern Songkhla province and patrol boats near Satun as military tightens control of Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia to prevent a recurrence of what happened in late May when a Malaysian woman who entered illegally infected three people in Narathiwat with the South African B1351 variant of the Covid 19 virus now prevalent in the neighbouring country.

Thailand’s armed forces in the South of the kingdom are playing their part in securing the country’s border with Malaysia in a renewed security operation to prevent the crossover of the South African variant of the Covid-19 virus which would pose a real threat to the efficacy of the country’s newly established supply of AstraZeneca vaccine doses locally produced in Pathum Thani.

The army has stepped up sea patrols near Satun province as well as using helicopters and additional units to cover the kingdom’s border with Malaysia and natural entry points as Thai medical experts warn the government of the threat posed by the South African variant of Covid-19 which is prevalent in Thailand’s southern neighbour.

As Thailand ramps up its vaccination drive, it is being advised by leading virologists such as Dr Yong Poovorawan that it needs to protect itself against variants including the Indian and South African strains.

The 4th Army Region of the Royal Thai Army in the South has mobilised over the past few days to strengthen the kingdom’s borders with Malaysia.

It follows a successful effort by Thai authorities in Narathiwat in recent weeks to contain the threat after nine villages in Tak Bai district were sealed off.

AstraZeneca is only 10.4% effective against the B1351 strain from South Africa which spreads 50% faster

The move came after three people contracted the B1351 variant from a Malaysian woman who had crossed over into Thailand illegally. 

The South African strain poses a particular threat to the kingdom as it is thought to reduce the effectiveness of the kingdom’s locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine, the mainstay of the country’s programme to create herd immunity.

Large and independently verified clinical trials worldwide carried out on behalf of AstraZeneca and Oxford University which developed the jab, have shown the vaccine to be 63% effective against the risk of infection.

However, tests in South Africa found that the vaccine there was only 10.4% effective against the local strain prompting South African authorities to cancel its use in that country.

The South African strain is currently driving infections in Malaysia where, in May, it reportedly accounted for 31% of infections.

The strain is not as serious as the normal Covid 19 strain but is 50% more contagious.

Armed forces deploy helicopter flights, more units on the ground and more patrol boats to close off all-natural entry points to illegal migrants and Thais

Details of the military operation by the army group based out of Nakhon Si Thammarat, and which is also responsible for tackling the southern insurgency, were given by the commander, Lieutenant General Kriangkria Srirak.

He said the troops with the 5th Infantry Regiment and the 437th Border Patrol Unit of the Royal Thai Police have stepped up patrols while a major effort was underway to close off and monitor all natural crossing points into the kingdom.

This includes the use of helicopter monitoring flights working with extra army units deployed on the ground and patrol boats near Satun province.

The commander explained that helicopters were being deployed especially in key districts of Songkhla province namely Nathawi, Sabayoi and Sadao.

Increased activity from illegal migrants and illegal Thai workers trying to return home from Malaysia

He admitted that this was in response to increased activity both from illegal migrant workers entering the kingdom and Thai nationals attempting to return from Malaysia illegally.

On Saturday night, 20 illegal migrants were arrested by security services in the Hat Yai district of Songkhla province. 

Border controls with Myanmar also tightened

A similar tightening of the border has been seen along Thailand’s long border with Myanmar.

Myanmar border on alert after shock local Covid positive test on Friday is linked to the local smuggling trade

Officials have indicated that the Covid-19 pandemic has produced a boom for people smugglers and the illegal migrant trade which despite appeals to employers and end-users in Thailand, is carrying on unabated.

People trafficking kingpin nabbed with ฿14 million in his bank account which swelled during the pandemic

At the end of May, police nabbed a people trafficker kingpin in the trade after arresting one of his lieutenants six days earlier.

On Tuesday 25th May, police intercepted Hasim Jirakitbamrung in the Thong Pha Phum district of Kanchanaburi.

Officers quickly discovered that the people smuggler’s activities and trade have spiralled since the pandemic began early in 2020.

When arrested, he was found to have ฿14 million in his bank accounts which police accessed and were able to confirm that the man’s bank deposits had grown from ฿5 to ฿6 million at the outset of the crisis.

Henchman paid ฿2,000 per a head to smuggle desperate people from Myanmar into Thailand

They had earlier arrested a certain Kriangsak Janya who told them that his boss paid him ฿2,000 per head to smuggle desperate migrants across the border and into Thailand.

Police later raided the home of the people trafficking boss where they discovered bank books and a range of Thai national IDs. The bank books showed evidence of regular transactions varying between ฿100,000 and ฿600,000.

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