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Covid-Infected Returnee Outbreak Spreads with New Chiang Rai Case as 175 Others Test Negative

Anutin says no North lockdown needed, but pauses quarantine, border relaxations

People wear face masks as they wait for clearance to cross the border with Myanmar in Chiang Rai.
People wear face masks as they wait for clearance to cross the border with Myanmar in Chiang Rai.

More than 170 people in close contact with ten coronavirus-infected women who skipped quarantine after illegally returning from Myanmar tested negative for Covid-19, the Public Health Ministry said Thursday.

The woman, several of them bar workers at a Tachileik hotel, crossed into Chiang Rai through natural border crossings and traveled to many provinces, including Bangkok. But tests on close contacts so far have returned negative.

Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for Public Health, and Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of the Disease Control, said the woman are under medical supervision with mild symptoms.

Among all 699 people who came in contact with the infected women, 175 considered at high risk tested negative for coronavirus. The rest of 524 people at low risk are being monitored.

Late Thursday, however, a 28-year-old Chiang Rai man close to a one of the illegal border crossers in Phayao tested positive for the coronavirus.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Thursday that the outbreak was under control and is not the long-feared “second wave” of virus cases hitting Thailand.

However, the women’s reckless behavior has given Thailand’s overly cautious leaders to put the brakes on further easing of pandemic controls such as shorter quarantines and looser borders.

“Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai do not need a lockdown,” Anutin said. “Transmission has been contained but the time for lockdown-easing must be put-off pending evaluation of situations in border areas.”

Anutin assured tourists that they can visit the North as usual as long as they would wear face masks and observe other disease-control precautions.

Opas said people who wear face masks at all times are at low risk when they are exposed to the virus. If they don’t wear face coverings and stay in enclosed spaces with an infected person for more than 15 minutes there is a chance of catching Covid-19.

The Interior Ministry on Wednesday ordered provincial officials to intensify their operations to control the coronavirus following the northern incident.

Permanent Secretary Chatchai Phromlert demanded stepped-up patrols for illegal returnees and immigrants in all regions.

He also assigned provincial authorities to check disease-control measures at at-risk places such as department stores, schools, restaurants, business premises, entertainment places, stadiums and tourist destinations.

Besides, headmen of villages and sub-districts and village-based health volunteers were ordered to check the people who return to their communities and ask people, operators and event organizers to implement disease control measures including the use of face masks, social distancing, the disinfection of surfaces and the use of Thaichana app for check-ins and checkouts at visited places.

Local authorities in Chiang Rai have worked with officials in Tachileik to receive requests of Thai nationals, who want return home.

So far, 150 persons made requests. They will be allowed to return through immigration checkpoints and undergo screening and quarantine.

Meanwhile, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration reported 13 official new Covid-19 cases, raising Thailand’s total to 4,039. The 13 icnluded six of the bar workers. The others were all quarantined returnees: four Thais, one Indian, an Egyptian and a Pakistani.