Airport workers on July 9, 2020, disinfect luggage carried on a plane carrying Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. James McConville to Thailand.
Airport workers on July 9, 2020, disinfect luggage carried on a plane carrying Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. James McConville to Thailand.

BANGKOK — An Egyptian airman who tested positive for the coronavirus was part of a group who was permitted to leave their quarantine facility and visit public venues in Rayong province, officials said Monday. 

The alarm was raised after the patient, who arrived in Thailand with 30 other airmen from the Egyptian Air Force, was discovered to have the virus on Sunday, said Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for the government’s virus taskforce. The revelation also prompted outrage from netizens who accused the authorities of failing to implement quarantine rules. 

“They were foreign airmen who entered into our country under a special exemption,” Taweesin said. “They landed at U-Tapao International Airport and we found that some of the measures there needed to be reevaluated.”

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The spokesman said the group spent three nights in Thailand from July 8 to 11 for a replenishment stop before flying back to Egypt on Saturday. They reportedly made brief stops in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan before their arrival. 

Taweesin also said health officials discovered that some members of the group went to “certain public venues” in Rayong province during their stay. He declined to identify those venues by name. 

“Our investigators will go to every location they contacted,” Taweesin said. “I would like to say to our brothers and sisters in Rayong that we are not hiding anything from you.”

They stayed at a hotel in Rayong city before leaving for a day trip to Chengdu, China, on July 9, and returned to spend two more nights in Thailand afterwards. The group were tested for the coronavirus on July 10, before the results came out on July 12, though they had already left the country. 

Public Kept in the Dark

Although the country’s airspace is currently closed to international flights except for Thai nationals and certain groups of foreigners, Taweesin said they were allowed to land as they are crew members on a military mission.

The spokesman did not specify which kind of mission it was, and it is unclear how the airmen were allowed to leave the quarantine. A set of regulations published by the government require pilots and aviators to undergo 14 days in quarantine. 

Health officials also refuse to inform the public the number of public venues visited by the Egyptian airmen, despite the severity of the health risk involved. 

Disease control department director Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai said he could not disclose the information since the investigation is still ongoing. 

“We are working as fast as we can,” Suwannachai said. “It should take 2 to 3 days for the results to come out.”

He added that risk of infection would be reduced if members of the public wear face masks and respect social distancing measures.

Rayong provincial public health office chief Sunthorn Rheanpumikankit could not be reached for comments as of press time.

Thailand reported three new cases of coronavirus on Monday. The latest patients were a 48-year-old Thai returning from Kuwait, a 22-year-old Thai returning from Bahrain, and a 43-year-old Egyptian airman.

The country’s cumulative cases of infection now stands at 3,220. No domestic infections so far for 49 days, according to the government.