SAMUT PRAKAN — Officials at Suvarnabhumi Airport said all passengers arriving from China were screened for the new strain of coronavirus, refuting rumors on social media that a Thai border is laid open to the epidemic.
During a reporter’s visit to Bangkok’s main international airport on Tuesday, a health official working at a quarantine checkpoint inside the airport’s arrival hall said every passenger, regardless of their flight origin, has to go through temperature scans before they can get their passports stamped.
“We still carry out thorough screenings for passengers arriving from China,” Thanawut Karapakdee said. “All flights from China are directed to a seperate concourse, where passengers will be screened one by one using thermal cameras to detect a fever and experts to look for any signs of symptoms.”
Earlier this week, a group of Thai students returning from China’s Hubei province wrote online that they did not see any health checkpoints when they landed at the airport on Sunday night.
But Thanawut said every passenger arriving on international flights has to go through a thermoscan in the area just before they enter immigration.
“We screen all passengers every day, not only when there’s an outbreak,” Thanawut said. “Passengers might have not noticed, but we have installed thermal cameras at the arrival hall before immigration checkpoint for years already.”
Disease control department director Suwanchai Watthanayingcharoenchai told the media the thermoscan device has been in place for three years now, but many might not have noticed it.
Thanawut, the quarantine officer, said if anyone is suspected of catching the virus, the person will be escorted to an isolation room. The person will then be referred to an infectious diseases institute, where they will be placed in a specialized ward and undergo a test.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Thailand rose to 14, though health officials said eight of them already recovered. Thanawut refused to disclose how many people were intercepted at the airport, but said his team contributed significantly to the number of cases found nationwide.
Thanawut said his team was falsely accused by social media of neglecting to screen incoming passengers – partly fanned by contradicting and confusing statements from different bureaucrats – until they took to Facebook themselves to explain the situation. The post was later shared more than 14,000 times.
“I didn’t think that many people would share my post,” he said. “I didn’t want to get attention, but I just wanted to refute fake news that accused us of not screening passengers after flights from Wuhan were banned. In fact, we’re still doing it round-the-clock.”
Dubbed by netizens as the nation’s first line of defense, Thanawut said the team of around a dozen people are working for a 12-hour shift each day. The Ministry of Public Health and the Royal Thai Army also sent reinforcements to help them at the airport.
Although Thanawut said his friends and family are concerned for his safety, the public health official said he is proud of his duties.
“It’s my responsibility as a health quarantine officer,” Thanawut said. “I don’t fear the virus because I always wear protective apparel and exercise caution. In fact, I’m honored to put my knowledge into use and defend my country and family against the epidemic.”
He added, “It’s a challenging task to screen thousands of people. All we want from members of the public is trust and support since we’re all putting our best efforts into it.”
During a reporter’s visit to the airport, many passengers, mostly Asians, and airport staff wore face masks to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus.
Gloria Lai, a tourist from Hong Kong, said she’s still confident about coming to Thailand despite the number of confirmed infection cases in the kingdom.
“It’s OK because we have infected people in Hong Kong too,” Lai said. “I will wash my hands more frequently and wear a mask to protect myself.”