BANGKOK — Health authorities in Bangkok on Tuesday confirmed they omitted references to a convenience store chain owned by one of Thailand’s largest corporations when publishing coronavirus patients’ travel history “due to legal concerns.”
Suspicions of a possible blackout were raised when many noticed that 7-Elevens were somehow missing from travel history of those who caught the coronavirus in the capital, despite the ubiquitous presence of the stores. The City Hall told Khaosod English that its officials acted upon advice from the legal officers against publishing names of some venues visited by the patients.
“We have representatives from the legal department to review the travel history of patients before announcing them,” Siriporn Thongphu, an officer at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s infectious control division, said by phone.
She added, “There’s also a case in the past of a condominium threatening to sue us for defamation.”
The omission became glaring on Sunday when the travel history of one of the patients – dubbed Patient 88 – released by the City Hall did not match the version published by the management of the condominium where he lives.
The only difference: his trip to a 7-Eleven.
“Dec. 21: The patient parked his car on the 6th floor and took an elevator down to L floor. He then went to the toilet and played badminton at the court,” the statement released by M Jatujak condominium on Friday said. “After he finished playing badminton, he visited a 7-Eleven store.”
Meanwhile, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s official report only says that the man went to work at Kasikorn Bank before “playing badminton with a friend at M Jatujak condominium.”
CP All, the conglomerate that operates 7-Elevens in Thailand, said in an email to Khaosod English that the company maintains high standards of sanitation at all of its stores.
The company said there is no report of anyone contracting the virus from its 7-Eleven stores to date. Bangkok has about 4,500 branches of 7-Eleven, according to available information.
“Customers only spent a few minutes in our stores, so there’s very low risk of infection,” the statement said. “However, we have instructed our staff to disinfect all the surfaces every three hours to ensure safety of our customers.”
Patient 88, who was identified as a 28-year-old man, had a history of having a meal with another infected individual in Samut Sakhon province, according to the records released by the City Hall.
He tested positive for infection on Dec. 28 after experiencing fever and loss of taste.
Siriporn, the health official from Bangkok City Hall, said her agency is doing its best to give out as much detail as possible in the patients’ travel records.
However, she did say that some of the details were not published since the patients were unable to confirm their visit, in order to prevent “panic.”
“We have to be extra careful that the patients really visit a particular place at a particular point of time, otherwise it may cause unnecessary panic,” Siriporn said. “Some of them could only recall the place, but not the time or how long they were there. Such information is not accurate enough.”
The practice of scrubbing any mention of 7-Eleven stores seems to be exclusively adopted by Bangkok authorities, since travel timelines of coronavirus patients published by provincial agencies outside the capital explicitly mention names of each establishment visited by the individuals, including 7-Eleven.
For instance, the travel history of a 66-year-old patient published by Prachuap Khiri Khan provincial health office says she stopped at a 7-Eleven in Nonthaburi multiple times between Dec. 20 to 24 before returning to Hua Hin, where she tested positive on Jan. 3.
As of Monday, a total of new 229 infections were discovered in Bangkok. The capital as well as 27 other provinces are now designated as “Red Zones” by the government, which empowers governors to enact stringent measures to stop the spread of the virus.