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Thailand Separating Children from Parents When Covid-19 Breaks Out at Home, Sparking Outcry

A young resident of the Bangkok's Klong Toey community has his temperature taken as he takes part in testing for the Covid-19 novel coronavirus
A young resident of the Bangkok's Klong Toey community has his temperature taken as he takes part in testing for the Covid-19 novel coronavirus

Behind Thailand’s coronavirus field hospitals, “hosptels” and “community isolation centers” lurks a secret that authorities were prefer stay hidden: the government is separating children from families when Covid-19 breaks out at home.

The policy, which began with the opening of a Bangkok care center for children ages 3-14 who have either tested positive for the coronavirus or whose parents did, has caused concern about possible violations of the rights of children in a country where it is now practice to force people who test positive for the virus into field hospitals, converted hotels and community centers, even if they exhibit no or only mild symptoms.

People are detained for 10-14 days in converted stadiums, community halls or closed hotels.

“There is no way I would allow anyone in this government to separate me from my child. Period,” one unnamed mother told the Thai press this week.

“In other words, the government is now kidnapping children,” another unidentified parent was quoted as saying.

City hall defended the practice, assuring parents that the center “organizes fun activities and gives the youngsters toys to play with to keep them occupied and ease the stress of being away from their families”.

The center is run by a team of doctors, nurses, public health officials and day-care volunteers around the clock. If the kids’ condition worsens, they are taken to hospitals immediately, the government said.

The number of Thai children infected with Covid-19 is low and the percentage of those experiencing long-lasting symptoms is even lower.

“In children, SARS-CoV-2 infection is usually asymptomatic or causes a mild illness of short duration,” said the authors of a new study conducted in the United Kingdom and published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

In the study, which involved more than 1,700 British children, the researchers found that only 4.4 percent of children had symptoms that lasted a month or longer.

“It is reassuring that the number of children experiencing long-lasting symptoms of Covid-19 is low,” Dr. Emma Duncan, an endocrinologist at King’s College London, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“Nevertheless, a small number of children do experience long illness with Covid-19.”

The government’s handling of a surging Covid-19 outbreak, which has seen more than 700,000 people infected and almost 5,600 die, the vast majority since April, has drawn widespread criticism.

A severe weeks-long lockdown, which has devastated the economy, has proved ineffective in halting the spread of infections, which have been on the rise daily for weeks.

The kingdom registered a record 20,920 infections and 160 deaths on Aug. 5.

At the same time, a mass vaccination project, which kicked off after repeated delays in early June, has faced chronic shortages of vaccines. As of Aug. 5, fewer than 6 percent of the population in a country of 69 million had been fully vaccinated.

Frequently contradictory statements and seemingly ad hoc polices by the military-allied government, whose popularity has plummeted, have added to the unease among many locals that those in charge are unable to handle the country’s biggest crisis in recent memory.

Once touted as a success story in containing the virus, Thailand is now seen by many experts as an object lesson in how ill-advised government policies can cause chaos and worsen an outbreak.

“Thailand is no longer an example of success but of disappointment,” Peerasit Kamnuansilpa, dean of the College of Local Administration at Khon Kaen University, wrote in an op-ed published on Aug. 4.

“Again, one only needs to read the daily Covid statistics to see how far we have fallen.”

The original version of this story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.