Gov’t Urged to Reopen Checkpoints as Border Trade Falls in Pandemic

Soldiers install barbed wire fences along Thai-Myanmar border in Chiang Rai province on July 1, 2020.

BANGKOK (Xinhua) — Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce said on Friday that it is urging government leaders to allow nine border checkpoints to reopen, as border trade has fallen nearly 10 percent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Thai government had instructed that Thailand’s borders be shut to prevent influx of illegal migrants, of which some may be carrying the virus.

Border trade from January to May has been recorded at 524.35 billion baht (16.75 billion U.S. dollars), falling 9.71 percent from the same period of last year, said the Ministry’s Department of Foreign Trade.

Exports totaled 305.72 billion baht (9.76 billion U.S. dollars) while imports were at 218.632 billion baht (6.985 billion U.S. dollars), a drop of 9.03 percent and 10.65 percent respectively.

The resulting trade surplus was at 87.093 billion baht (2.78 billion U.S. dollars), said the department’s director-general Keerati Rushchano.

The department head said that Malaysia was Thailand’s top partner in border trade from January to May, followed by Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

However on the global scale, China remains Thailand’s top partner with trade rising 15.74 percent to 90.740 billion baht (2.9 billion U.S. dollars), followed by Singapore.

Thailand has a total of 97 checkpoints, but only 28 remain open during the pandemic.

Police Intensify Myanmar Border Control

The Thai Immigration Bureau said on Friday that it had dispatched hundreds of officers to patrol the porous areas bordering Myanmar for fear of illegal migrants crossing to Thailand and spreading COVID-19.

Thai army troops, police and administrative officers of the border town of Mae Sot, in the northern province of Tak province, were conducting inspections along jungles and the Mekong River, the two main areas dividing Thailand and Myanmar.

The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) said that despite the border seal-off during the COVID-19 lockdown, there have been reports of illegal entries of Myanmar workers.

“We are about to reach 50 days of free local COVID-19 transmission, and since the ban of inbound flights still prevail, the second wave of infection would likely come from those who illegally crossed the border to Thailand,” said CCSA spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin.

Taweesin said that as Thailand had already entered into its Fifth Phase of easing of business lockdown, illegal migrants are searching for ways to enter Thailand to meet the soaring demand for cheap labor.

“It is a challenging job for border taskforce to intercept the flow of illegal migrants,” said Taweesin. “Our borders are intricate and porous.”