Covid-19 spreaders cross Chiang Rai border

BANGKOK, 2 December 2020: Chiang Rai hotels fear massive cancellations following confirmation that three Thai nationals illegally crossed the Myanmar-Thai border at Mae Sai and have since tested Covid-19 positive. 

It’s a major set back for the far north province that has been relatively free of cases since last March. Travel and hospitality businesses are now reporting heavy cancellations as Thai domestic travellers perceive the province as a health and safety risk.

A Reuters report, 1 December noted that “Thailand was racing to track down about 200 people in its northern provinces on Monday to stop a potential coronavirus outbreak.”

Official statements from the office of the Chiang Rai provincial governor, Prachon Pratsakul, quoted by Reuters claimed the “three women bypassed immigration checks and entered via natural border crossings last Tuesday and Friday, skipping the mandatory quarantine for new arrivals.”

However, the governor’s assertion has not been independently verified as the “natural border crossings” would require arduous treks over hill ridges following remote trails. Chiang Rai residents are well aware there are much easier smuggling routes right in the heart of downtown Tachilek and Mae Sai.

The three women according to media reports came into contact with 356 people in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces. Reports suggest they visited a shopping mall, a cinema, restaurants and mingled with passengers in a van and taxi.

Up until now, Thailand’s has adopted strict border controls at airports, land and seaports that has successfully kept the SARS-CoV-2 virus at bay. As of 29 November, cumulative cases reached 4,008 with 21 new cases reported while fatalities remain at 60.

The biggest loser so far has been the country’s tourism-reliant economy with hundreds of hotels and travel companies forced to announce temporary closures and lay off thousands of workers.

Reuters said more than 150 people in the northern provinces were located, and they all tested negative. However, the track and trace exercise continues with calls for people who had contact with the three women to come forward for testing.

The first of the three women diagnosed with Covid-19 arrived in Chiang Rai on 24 November and visited entertainment venues and a popular shopping mall before travelling to Chiang Mai, where she later showed Covid-19 symptoms and checked in a hospital.

The two other women who also worked at the same “entertainment venue” in Tachilek, Myanmar, crossed into Thailand last Friday. They stayed at a local hotel in Chiang Rai are now in the province’s government hospital after they tested positive for Covid-19.

Myanmar has reported  88,000 infections and 1,887 deaths overall, but this has not prevented both Thais and Myanmar citizens from crossing the border at Mae Sai that is technically closed.

Now the province is likely to pay a high price for what appears to be lax border controls, not in the hills around Mae Sai as officials would have us believe, but more likely on the busy streets leading to the Tachilek-Mae Sai checkpoints.

(Source: Reuters with additional observations)