Updated Throughout (Monday 8 p.m.): Thailand’s government bungled its first attempt at allowing foreigners to enter Thailand without undergoing quarantine, possibly seeding the first local coronavirus outbreak in the country in seven weeks.
Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, admitted Monday that an Egyptian military official who tested positive for Covid-19 only after leaving the country may have infected dozens of others, including Thais, during his three-day stay in Rayong.
The unidentified Egyptian airman, who with 30 others, had flown from Cairo on a military jet and made stops in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. They 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 under rules introduced July 1.
The group arrived on July 8 at U-Tapao-Rayong-Pattaya Airport and checked into the D Varee Diva Central hotel in Rayong, but did not undergo a coronavirus test either at the airport or check-in at hotel. The next morning, the Egyptians left for Chengdu and returned that night.
Only on July 10 was the delegation tested for the coronavirus. But the swabs were contaminated and the results, which didn’t come back until the next day, proved “problematic”. A second test was done on July 11, but results weren’t available until after the group had already left for Cairo.
Taweesin said only one of the 31 airmen tested positive and he was asymptomatic.
While waiting for results, a number of the Egyptians left the hotel visited a nearby shopping center and another unspecified “public place”.
The two floors at the D’Varee where the group stayed have now been closed and are being disinfected. Management of the Passione Shopping Destination said on its Facebook page the Egyptians did not visit there. Ten schools are Rayong also were ordered closed July 14 as an extreme over-reaction.
the Disease Control Department is now trying to identify and isolate everyone who came into contact with the Egyptian party, with two hotel staffers who served room service to group members already placed in isolation.
Public Health Ministry officials said it could take two or three days to trace all the contacts and place everyone in isolation.
While short-term government missions are allowed to skip quarantine, they are supposed to avoid public places and public transit while here. Yet Taweesin denied any protocols were breached. However, he said, certain procedures now need to be “re-evaluated”.
Should any of the hotel employees, plane passengers or others who contacted the group test positive, Thailand’s record of seven weeks without a locally transmitted coronavirus case would end. It likely also would supply more ammunition for government officials pushing to keep the borders closed to foreign tourists indefinitely.
Ironically, the Egyptian delegation arrived the same day as the much-ballyhooed visit by U.S. military officials, who had to submit to coronavirus testing in front of press cameras and under the watchful eye of military escorts. Meanwhile, with the Thai military’s attention of the U.S. visitors, the Egyptians apparently were left to their own accord. The army on Monday night denied any involvement with the incident.
The Egyptian airman was one of three cases reported Monday by the CCSA. The other two were a Thai man who returned from Kuwait on June 29 with 10 previously confirmed Covid-19 patients, and a Thai woman who returned from Bahrain.
At the same time as the Egyptian lapse was disclosed, news also surfaced that another confirmed case – a 9-year-old girl whose parent were part of a diplomatic mission to hard-hit Sudan – had been allowed to isolate at home with her parents.
Sudan has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus and nearly 20 Thais who have returned from there have tested positive.
The girl is now hospitalized, but her parents have been allowed to remain at their Bangkok condo. Taweesin said that, due to diplomatic immunity laws, this has been standard procedure throughout the pandemic but, again, this would now be re-evaluated.