Jail in Lockdown After Prisoner Found With Coronavirus

A woman takes a swab test for the coronavirus at a mobile testing unit in front of Laem Thong Department Store on July 14, 2020.
A woman takes a swab test for the coronavirus at a mobile testing unit in front of Laem Thong Department Store on July 14, 2020.

BANGKOK — An inmate at Khlong Prem Prison tested positive for the coronavirus in what officials described Thursday as the Kingdom’s first case of local infection in 100 days. 

The 37-year-old prisoner was jailed on drug charges and shared a cellroom with 34 other inmates, officials said in an urgent news conference. He is said to have worked as a DJ in popular nightlife areas, including Khaosan Road, and up to 34 people are considered to be at high risk of contracting the virus from him. 

Most worryingly, the inmate had no recent history of traveling overseas, suggesting that he was infected by others within Thailand. 

“Since the long holidays start tomorrow, people are still welcome to travel,”  Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, director-general of the Disease Control Department, said. “But please practice social distancing.”

Coronavirus response center spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin said that the man entered prison on Aug. 26 and tested positive on Sep. 2. Taweesin said the inmate showed no symptoms. 

The 34 prisoners who shared the cellroom, two volunteers, and 50 prison guards are currently in isolation for 14 days, officials said. Up to 30 inmates have tested negative for the virus so far. 

Good Things Can’t Last?

The infected inmate was a DJ who worked at a bar called First Cafe on Khaosan Road and other establishments in the Rama III and Rama V Roads, health ministry officials said. A prison director said he most likely contracted the virus before he was sent to jail for selling drugs. 

Department of Disease Control’s epidemiology bureau director Walairat Chaiyafu said the clubs he worked at had mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing measures for all customers. 

He had also recently traveled to a province in the Greater Bangkok area, although officials said they still needed to check which one it was. 

The news marked the end of 100 days of no reported coronavirus infection within Thailand – a much publicized feat that distinguished the Kingdom from many of its neighbors in Southeast Asia. 

The development was also anticipated by health officials and physicians who repeatedly warned that a “second wave” of the virus was inevitable. 

They include Chulalongkorn Hospital epidemic expert Thiravat Hemachudha, who on Aug. 14 urged Thais to prepare for a resurgence of the outbreak, and Vichaiyut Hospital doctor Manoon Leechawengwong, who shared the same warning on Aug. 8. 

Thailand’s cumulative number of coronavirus infection stood at 3,427 as of Thursday morning, and 58 people have died from the virus.

The pandemic also wreaked a near unprecedented havoc on the national economy, which mostly relies on exports and tourism. Millions of people – an optimistic prediction says “2-3 million” – are expected to lose their jobs, and the GDP sunk to -12.2 percent in the second quarter, the worst performance in 20 years.