Some Workers Fleeing Virus-Hit South Korea To Be Quarantined

A quarantine officer screens passengers at the arrival hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport on March 4, 2020.
A quarantine officer screens passengers at the arrival hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport on March 4, 2020.

BANGKOK — Reversing its stance announced just a day earlier, the government on Wednesday said some of the Thai migrant workers fleeing the coronavirus epidemic in South Korea will spend 14 days in quarantine.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Thai undocumented workers returning from Daegu city and North Gyeongsang province – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea – will spend the mandatory quarantine inside an undisclosed government facility upon their arrival.

“Everyone coming from these two cities will be quarantined for 14 days to minimize the risk of spreading the virus,” Prayut said. “They are not allowed to opt for self-quarantine at home. I believe this should bring a sense of relief to the public.”

Officials said 5,000 Thais who worked illegally in South Korea have signed up for an offer by the Korean authorities to let them return home without legal repercussions.

Prayut’s remark came a day after his no. 2, Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, said the government has no power to order the Thai workers into a quarantine, causing panic among the public that the workers may spread the coronavirus in Thailand.

Prayut did not address the contradicting remarks, but said there are thorough screening measures in place at airports. He added that the screenings also applied to everyone else returning from other South Korean cities.

“There are screenings at the departing airport. If a person is caught with fever, they would not be allowed on board,” Prayut said.

He continued, “When they arrive in Thailand, there are three layers of quarantine checkpoints. Those coming from the two cities will undergo the most thorough one and will be isolated to one of the quarantine facilities according to their hometown.”

It is not immediately known where the facilities are located. When Thai evacuees returned from the Chinese city of Wuhan last month, they were quarantined inside a navy-operated hotel.

Lt. Gen. Thanya Kietisan, commander of the army group in the northeast region where most of the workers came from, said ten military hospitals under his command are ready to host the returnees if they are ordered to do so.

“We are awaiting confirmation from PM Prayut and the Ministry of Defense to decide which facility will be used,” Thanya said. “If they are coming in large numbers, we might have to use our base to accommodate them.”

But some of the workers had already arrived in Thailand in recent days.

The Ministry of Health said 17 returnees arriving on Tuesday were found to show symptoms associated with the coronavirus and were isolated at hospitals.

However, preliminary tests found none tested positive for the virus so far, according to Suwanchai Watthanayingcharoenchai, chief of the Disease Control Department.

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