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Short-Term Visits Halted, Egyptians Banned Following Foreign-Visit Snafus

Harsh blowback to force foreign diplomats to enter state quarantine after hundreds potentially exposed to coronavirus amid Thai government lapses.

A Rayong public-health workers sprays disinfectant on city streets Monday night.
A Rayong public-health workers sprays disinfectant on city streets Monday night. (TNA)

Thailand today suspended all short-term foreign visits, banned the Egyptian Air Force and revoked privileges allowing diplomats to self-quarantine following government lapses that potentially exposed hundreds in Rayong and Bangkok to the coronavirus.

Fallout from the two incidents disclosed Monday involving a delegation of Egyptian airmen in Rayong and a family of Sudanese diplomats in Bangkok came fast and furious Monday, with Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration suspending several tourist-entry rules that went into effect July 1 and the Cabinet transferring Rayong’s governor to a new post even though he had nothing to do with the snafu there.

Rayong on Monday went into full-blown panic mode after the revelation that one visiting airman had tested positive for the coronavirus after he and 30 compatriots had spent four hours walking around two city shopping malls.

The farcical, knee-jerk reaction saw Rayong close 11 schools and day care centers, offer free coronavirus tests to anyone in the expansive province and send fumigation trucks to spray disinfectant on city streets. Dozens of Thais queued Tuesday morning to obtain tests, although probably none of them had been anywhere near the strolling Egyptians.

The D’Varee Diva Central hotel initially closed the two floors where the group stayed and the Laemthong and Central Plaza malls they visited were disinfected overnight. Today the hotel announced it would close entirely for two weeks and isolating all staff.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha today called both incidents “unnecessary” and apologized to the many inconvenienced by the mess. He said all the rules and procedures pertaining the non-quarantine entries are now being reviewed.

Immediate changes, however, will see the Egyptian Air Force banned temporarily from Thailand following the military delegation’s violation of its entry conditions. Two visits planned for July 17-20 and 25-29 have been scrapped.

The Egyptians had stopped over in Thailand on the way to a July 9 defense summit in Chengdu, China and had been allowed to enter Thailand without submitting to a 14-day quarantine because they were government officers whose request to stop over had been approved by the Royal Thai Air Force. The Air Force this afternoon pointed its finger at the Public Health Ministry, saying it gave permission for the airmen to leave.

They were allowed to skip quarantine, but were required to remain in their hotel during their stay, only traveling with a military escort to prescheduled locations.

But from the outset the Egyptians didn’t comply. They had checked into a hotel booked by their embassy that was not certified alternative-quarantine venue. They then refused to submit to required coronavirus testing, a dispute that necessitated the intervention of police and Egyptian embassy officials to resolve.

The tests done on July 10, however, resulted in contaminated swabs and a second round of tests had to be done on July 11. But results didn’t come back until the next day. By that time, the group and its one infected, but asymptomatic, member, had already left for Cairo.

The CCSA said seven hotel employees and two people at the airport had high-risk exposure to the virus and have been isolated. The two shopping malls said 394 people had checked into the Laemthong mall between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. using the government’s Thai Chana contact-tracing app. All now qualify for free Covid-19 testing, although chances of any of them having been exposure are slim-to-none.

Egyptian airmen aren’t the only foreign-government guests facing blowback, however. From now on, overseas diplomats will be forced to enter state quarantine or pay for their own “alternative quarantine” when entering Thailand following the reckless actions and lax oversight of a Sudanese family living in the Condo One X tower on Sukhumvit Soi 26.

The African diplomats, who had been on a humanitarian mission to Sudan, returned to Thailand on earlier this month one the second of two repatriation flights to evacuate 400 of the 750 Thai students there.

Twelve people on that flight so far have tested positive for the coronavirus. All but one – the diplomats’ 9-year-old daughter – were in state quarantine. She tested positive for Covid-19 on July 10 and was hospitalized. Her parents, however, took advantage of diplomatic privilege to skip state quarantine and isolate at the Sudanese embassy, a practice that, until now, had created zero problems, the CCSA said.

The only problem? They never went to the embassy. Instead the sheltered for two days at their Sukhumvit condo without informing the Public Health Ministry or the even the condo’s management. After two days, they relocated to the Sudanese ambassador’s private residence where they remain.

In doing so, the infected girl led to serious virus exposure for seven people – three family members, their driver, an embassy staffer and two airport drivers. Fifteen condo residents technically were exposed via using the same elevator, although the practical risk is negligible.

Condo One X management on Monday closed all public areas and launched a top-to-bottom disinfecting. Residents reported today that public facilities had reopened.

CCSA spokesman Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin said Tuesday that, as a result, foreign diplomats will no longer have the option to isolate at their embassies. All just go to a state quarantine facility to pay the hefty price for a luxury hotel’s 14-day “alternative quarantine” package.

Taweesin added that all short-term visitors who had been allowed since July 1 to skip quarantine – guests invited by the government, businesspeople on short stays of five days or less and tourists exempted from quarantine by bilateral “travel bubble” agreements – would be barred temporarily while the CCSA revises its procedures and strengthens enforcement mechanisms.

“We will try to improve some points, which was not strictly enforced,” added Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul.

There are still many questions that remain unresolved, such as why the Egyptians were allowed to fly to China and return to Thailand to stay another day with no business here, and why the group had no escort. The Air Force is refusing to take responsibility. And it remains to be seen if this will delay even more Thailand’s reopening to the world.