Some 600 Myanmar migrants working in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province are among more than 800 confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to the Talay Thai wholesale shrimp market, the site of the country’s worst outbreak so far, which was first reported last Thursday.
On Monday morning, 126 new cases were reported in Samut Sakhon, taking the total linked to the outbreak to 820 since Dec. 17. Of these, about 600 are Myanmar workers, according to U Aung Kyaw, the director of the advocacy group Migrant Workers Rights Network.
The wholesale seafood market at the epicenter of the latest outbreak employs a large community of Myanmar migrant workers. Some 300,000 to 400,000 Myanmar migrants work in seafood markets and seafood processing plants in Thailand.
U Aung Kyaw said Thai health officials are providing free COVID-19 test to migrants in Mahachai (as Samut Sakhon is also known) after a 67-year-old Thai seafood vendor tested positive for the coronavirus. A number of her primary contacts including family members and a few Myanmar migrant workers later tested positive. By Sunday, the virus had reportedly spread to people who visited the market from other provinces including Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Ratchaburi and Suphan Buri.
On Saturday night, Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of Thailand’s Department of Medical Sciences, said during a TV broadcast that about 90 percent of the patients in the cluster were asymptomatic and the majority are migrant workers.
Samut Sakhon Governor Veerasak Vichitsaengsri issued stay-at-home orders and instructed that all local convenience stores close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“The situation is certainly more severe than many of us had thought,” he said on Saturday. The National News Bureau of Thailand posted—and later removed—a message on Saturday night warning that “Local migrant workers are not allowed to leave Samut Sakhon. Local Thai citizens are allowed to leave only after informing authorities of their names and destination.”
All those who visited markets in the area have been asked to get tested, said U Min San, who works in a fish canning factory in Mahachai that employs some 2,000 workers. He said 50 Myanmar workers from the factory had been quarantined so far.
Reflecting growing concern about the scale of the cluster, Thailand’s Public Health Ministry was assigned to prepare lockdown criteria for more provinces if the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, The Bangkok Post reported on Monday.
After the outbreak was first reported last week, Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said—without citing any evidence—that migrant workers might have been responsible for transmitting the virus to the 67-year-old vendor, Khaosod news reported.
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