Thailand Closes Southern Border Crossing After 2 Officials Catch Coronavirus

Mariyam Ahmad and Matahari Ismail
Pattani and Narathiwat, Thailand
2020-04-22
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200422-TH-covid-border-labor-1000.jpg A Thai soldier escorts Thai citizens leaving Malaysian territory as they walk toward a checkpoint in Sungai Kolok, in southern Thailand’s Narathiwat province, April 19, 2020.
Matahari Ismail/BenarNews

Updated at 7:23 a.m. ET on 2020-04-23

Thailand shut down a checkpoint along its border with Malaysia on Wednesday after two officers tested positive for the coronavirus and nearly 70 other officers who worked there were placed under quarantine, officials said.

The closure of the border crossing point at Sadao in southern Songkhla province came only a few days after Thai authorities had re-opened it and four other checkpoints to allow some 4,000 Thai workers, who were stranded in Malaysia because of that country’s COVID-19 lockdown, to return home in controlled numbers.

“We found that an immigration officer and a police officer at the Sadao checkpoint were infected with COVID-19 and we found four more likely infected [officers] as well,” Jaruwat Kliengklao, the governor of Songkhla, told reporters on Wednesday.

Besides the two officers who tested positive for the disease, and the other four who were also hospitalized, close to 70 more officers were placed under quarantine for the next two weeks, according to a senior immigration police officer.

“Today we put 69 officers under quarantine because two persons had tested positive, although 42 of them had currently tested negative [for COVID-19],” Col. Mana Naktang, the deputy chief of the 6th Immigration Bureau in Had Yai, another district in Songkhla, told BenarNews.

The checkpoint at Sadao was shut down on Wednesday afternoon and will stay closed until April 29 while it is fumigated and disinfected, officials said. In the meantime, buses will take Thais who intend to cross the border at Sadao to a checkpoint at Padang Besar, which was scheduled to be-reopened on Thursday as a back-up facility for the checkpoint at Sadao.

On April 18, Sadao and four other border checkpoints, not including the one at Padang Besar, were reopened to allow limited numbers of Thai returnees back into the country from Malaysia, officials said.

Thailand has for the time being sealed its borders to non-resident foreign nationals, as a safeguard to contain the spread of the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus on its soil.

According to the re-entry program, which started last weekend, Thailand and Malaysia agreed to allow up to 350 Thai citizens per day to cross into Thai territory via five checkpoints.

Facilities have been set up on the Thai side of the frontier to quarantine returnees upon their arrival. However, nearly 1,000 Thai nationals have been caught, fined and placed into quarantine on the Thai side since last week after being apprehended crossing the border via illicit routes, officials said.

On Wednesday, Thai health authorities reported 15 new coronavirus infections and one fatality, taking the country’s cumulative cases to 2,826, with a death toll of 49.

Globally, more than 2.6 million infections from the coronavirus have been recorded while the death toll stood at more than 180,700 as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

CORRECTION: An earlier version wrongly reported that the Padang Besar checkpoint was among five southern border checkpoints that re-opened on April 18.

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