Border Gate Forced to Open as Myanmar Migrant Workers Leave Thailand Amid COVID-19

By The Irrawaddy 24 March 2020

Mae Sot, Thailand/Myawaddy, Myanmar – Thailand and Myanmar were forced to open the second Mae Sot-Myawaddy Friendship Bridge after thousands of migrants workers flocked to Mae Sot to return to Myanmar on Tuesday, despite the COVID-19 restrictions.

The governments had announced closing the border on Tuesday to restrict the movement of people to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

However, nearly 2,000 migrant workers crossed the border on Tuesday since the early morning, according to U Thant Zin Aung, a state parliamentarian, who is at the border control checkpoint.

He said: “Although the border checkpoints are ordered to close, there are many Myanmar citizens arriving at the Mae Sot border control checkpoint. So we have to receive them. If more returnees were there in the next days, we would accept them as our citizens are our priority.”

Since Saturday approximately 17,000 migrants returned homes while many more are still traveling from their workplaces elsewhere in Thailand to the border.

Myanmar confirmed two imported COVID-19 cases on Monday night and Thailand had 827 confirmed cases as of Tuesday afternoon.

Some returned because there is no work as businesses and factories close and others had expired visas and work permits.

Some of the migrant workers interviewed by The Irrawaddy in Mae Sot on Tuesday said they were concerned about the virus but were aware of its impact and how to protect themselves and others.

Ko Win Hlaing, a factory worker, who was fired due to the reduction of work following the COVID-19 pandemic, said: “When I arrive at my village, I will follow the government instructions with 14 days of home quarantine.

“If I were infected, I will face it alone and will not want my family to get infected.”

The government has asked returnees to follow a 14-day home quarantine, as the numbers are too high for hospitals to cope.

Upon reception, the migrants’ temperature is checked and each pass through a thermal scanner. The authorities in Myawaddy are arranging transport to people’s hometowns, said U Thant Zin Aung.

Kyaw Kha, Aung Thiha and Nyein Nyein contributed to this report.

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