Fear of virus variants spurs Thai border crackdown

Over two dozen Myanmar nationals were arrested Sunday in Kanchanaburi’s Sangkhla Buri district.
Over two dozen Myanmar nationals were arrested Sunday in Kanchanaburi’s Sangkhla Buri district.

Border police are beefing up security and enforcement to curtail illegal entries for fear they will worsen the COVID-19 crisis and spread more deadly and more contagious variants. 

The policy is driven by the latest wave of anxiety amplified by the arrest of two taxi drivers Sunday in the southern city of Hat Yai who were hired to transport 10 Myanmar nationals across the border from Malaysia.

The two drivers – identified as 47-year-old Abdulrahman Konngkalimun and 51-year-old Siriwat Suwanmanee – reportedly confessed that they took THB1,500 (US$48) each to transport the group of men and women, according to Col. Ayupan Kannasut, commander of the 5th Infantry Regiment Task Force.

Brazilian variant in Thai state quarantine adds to worry over imported mutations

They were taken for COVID-19 testing immediately, according to Ayupan. The police said some paid upward of MYR3,000 (THB22,731/US$730) to Malaysian middlemen who arranged transport across the border.

Ayupan said the authorities worry they might carry more contagious COVID-19 variants yet to be found in Thailand, especially from Malaysia, where the South African COVID-19 variant recently emerged. 

On the same day, another 33 Myanmar nationals, all thought to be laborers, were arrested west of the capital in Kanchanaburi’s Sangkhla Buri district, which lies along the border with Myanmar. A local special task force said that the group came from Mawlamyine province in Myanmar and entered with help of a Myanmar trafficking ring. Some of them told police that they paid agents up to THB18,000 (US$578) per person.

Thai health officials have blamed the strength of the third-wave outbreak that began in March on a highly contagious variant first found in the United Kingdom. Another potentially more lethal strain first detected in Brazil, they said last week, has also been found inside state quarantine.

Gen. Damrongsak Kittiprapat, deputy commander of the Royal Thai Police, said Monday that he had officers to strictly patrol all borders along Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to prevent illegal entries. It’s a tall order, as the porous borders and supply of cheap labor are a valuable economic link.

Daily infection rates have hovered at about 2,000 and deaths have been on the rise. On Monday, 1,630 new COVID-19 cases were logged with 22 more fatalities.

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