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Despite Labor Shortage, Disease-Control Chief Wants Myanmar Workers Banned After Rakhine Outbreak

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Even as construction projects shut down and fishing fleets drop anchor amid an acute labor shortage, Thailand’s Bureau of General Communicable Diseases is proposing that the recently begun import of migrant workers be halted after 22 cases were reported in western Myanmar.

Director Sophon Iamsirithaworn said Covid-19 cases were increasing in Rakhine State after an outbreak two weeks ago. There were 22 new cases in Myanmar by Friday.

Businesses “should suspend importing Myanmar workers until the spread of the disease is alleviated,” he said Friday.

Thailand and Myanmar shared a border for a distance of about 150 kilometers.

Chatchai Phromlert, permanent secretary for interior, said he ordered governors in ten provinces along the two countries’ 150-klometer border to prevent illegal migrants.

Entry of migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia actually was restarted this month to help do just that. If migrant laborers are given legal ways to enter the country, fewer would have reason to try to cross illegally, business leaders pointed out.

More than 50 Burmese workers were arrested on Friday alone for illegal entry in Mae Sot District of Tak Province. The group was crammed inside a house on the bank of the Moei River. They carried no travel documents in apparent attempt to seek jobs in Thailand.

Another 16 illegal Burmese immigrants were arrested at the Thai-Malaysian border in Songkhla Province on Aug. 25.

Health experts also noted that legal immigration cuts the risk of the coronavirus entering Thailand, as legal migrants must go through health screenings and quarantine.