Health workers prepare test kits in Nonthaburi on Dec. 22, 2020.
Health workers prepare test kits in Nonthaburi on Dec. 22, 2020.

BANGKOK — The mass coronavirus outbreak at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon has now spread to at least 13 provinces as of Tuesday, officials said.

The latest count includes 9 cases in Bangkok, 8 each in Samut Songkhram, Nakhon Pathom, and Pathum Thani; 7 in Samut Prakan and Suphan Buri; 3 in Saraburi; 2 each in Kamphaeng Phet, and Phetchabun; and 1 each in Chachoengsao, Phetchaburi, Uttaradit, and Phuket, according to provincial health offices.

All of the cases are traced back to the shrimp market in Samut Sakhon, where at least 1,063 people, mostly migrant workers, have tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a televised speech on Tuesday evening, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said that the government’s pandemic response center will discuss later this week whether more measures are needed to curb the spread of infection.

He did not specify how they will be played out.

“I may have to impose additional measures, especially the New Year celebrations,” Prayut said. “If we’re too lax, the COVID-19 will cause more damage to the economy and that will affect us all.”

Samut Sakhon Gov. Veerasak Vijitsaengsri said health officials performed a total of 6,156 tests so far, in which 242 more people tested positive on Tuesday. The search would be expanded to other surrounding communities in the province where migrant workers reside, he added.

“Ninety percent of the patients are migrant workers,” Veerasak said. “However, things are looking up since the infection rate is now lowered from 40 to 27.91 percent.”

Security officers search a truck for any foreign nationals who cross the borders illegally in Prachuap Khiri Khan on Dec. 22, 2020.

The governor also urged Thai residents to have compassion for migrant workers who are currently quarantined in their dorms.

“The Myanmar people living in the Central Shrimp Market are not convicts. They are not criminal suspects. They did nothing wrong,” the governor said at a news conference. “The important thing right now is we have to take care of them, to make sure they are safe.”

He dismissed reports on social media that some Myanmar workers broke out of their quarantines. Photos posted online show what is claimed to be a breach in the wall surrounding the flats where the migrant workers live, with a caption saying the workers smashed their way through the wall.

But Veerasak said the hole was a result of the structure crumbling down long before the pandemic broke out, and the authorities received no words of any workers fleeing the quarantines so far.

“I’d like to ask people outside the wall to think of the people behind the wall,” Veerasak said. “All this news that is spreading, if Thai people see it, Myanmar people see it, too … Please be considerate. We have to lessen the stress they are feeling.”

Thailand now records more than 5,700 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic broke out in January, though a majority of the patients have already recovered. Officials said 60 people have died of the virus.

Health workers question migrant workers about their travel history in Phuket province on Dec. 22, 2020.

Sophon Iamsirithavorn, director of the health ministry’s communicable disease division, said there is a greater rate of infection in areas around the shrimp market in Samut Sakhon because of its crowded environment.

“The rate of infection at the epicenter is as high as 44 percent because it is a crowded community,” Sophon said. “However, the rate of infection is three times lower two kilometers away from the epicenter at 8 to 14 percent.”

He also dismissed the possibility of local outbreaks in other provinces, saying that the transmission is still limited to family members of the patients who visited the shrimp market.

“Infections in other provinces are still limited to family members of those who visited the shrimp market,” Sophon said. “We found no further transmission from the patients.”

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