Six Thai soldiers tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, two days after they and other members of their unit returned to Thailand from a joint-training mission with U.S. troops in Hawaii, officials here said.
The soldiers were among 10 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases confirmed in the country within the past 24 hours, all of them Thai nationals who were detected with being infected after arriving home from abroad, according to authorities and local news reports.
“Among the 10 new cases confirmed infected today were six soldiers, who joined an exercise at a Hawaiian base and returned on July 22 and were quarantined in Chonburi province,” Dr. Taweesilp Wisanuyothin, spokesman for Thailand’s COVID-19 task force, said during a daily online briefing.
The servicemen were among 11 Royal Thai Army who were placed under investigation as potential COVID-19 cases and hospitalized after displaying flu-like symptoms upon their return on Wednesday, officials said. Five of the 11 tested negative for the virus.
Gen. Nattapon Srisawat, the director of the Thai army’s anti-COVID-19 unit, told the Bangkok Post newspaper that he believed the soldiers were exposed to the virus during the training exercise in Hawaii earlier this month. The Royal Thai Army commander had ordered an investigation with the U.S. side into how the infections occurred, Nattapon said.
In Honolulu on Friday, officials with the U.S. Army Pacific command did not immediately respond to a query from BenarNews.
The Thai soldiers belonged a 150-strong unit, which took part in a joint training program on Oahu Island with troops from the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division. According to a report in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the operation, Exercise Lightning Forge, ran from July 7 to July 21.
The operation is an annual brigade-level exercise, which prepares troops for joint readiness and interoperability between U.S. forces and contingents from allied nations, according to other information online.
Apart from the six soldiers, the other four newly detected coronavirus cases included people who had arrived from Germany, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Sudan, Thai authorities said.
The 10 new coronavirus cases brought Thailand’s overall number to 3,279. Only 58 deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded in the Southeast Asian country, while zero deaths have been confirmed for the past two months. The overall caseload has stayed relatively low since Thailand months ago became the first country outside China – where the original outbreak of the virus took place – to detect a COVID-19 case.
In recent weeks, however, the Thai government was criticized for mismanaging the pandemic and potentially exposing the nation to a new wave of infections after an Egyptian soldier, who had stayed in a hotel and visited a mall while his military plane was on a layover in eastern Rayong province, turned out to be coronavirus positive.
The government’s handling of the pandemic and how it has used emergency powers during the health crisis have been among grievances leveled against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and his administration during anti-government protests that began last week.