Myanmar & COVID-19

Thai COVID-19 Surge Triggers Ugly Social Media Attacks on Myanmar Migrants

By The Irrawaddy 28 December 2020

The Thai government is struggling to handle the rising number of COVID-19 cases among its citizens and Myanmar migrant workers, with Thai newspapers reporting 144 new cases on Monday—115 Thais, 14 migrant workers and 15 quarantined arrivals. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the kingdom has reached 6,285.

On the same day, Thai PBS news reported that Veerasak Vichitsangsri, the governor of Samut Sakhon province, where hundreds of Myanmar migrant workers have been infected with the coronavirus, had himself contracted the disease.

Soon after, Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul entered home quarantine for 14 days, having held a meeting with the governor earlier.

Anutin said his first COVID-19 test was negative and doctors considered him at low risk of catching the disease, because the Samut Sakhon governor had worn a face mask at all times during their meeting.

Thailand’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Sunday admitted that the current coronavirus outbreak is more serious than the first wave early this year and urged the public to comply with disease control measures so that drastic steps would not be needed.

Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesman for the CCSA, said the number of infections had jumped by more than 1,000 in a short period of time, suggesting the virus is spreading far more rapidly this time.

Of the 6,285 cases the country has reported so far, 4,180 (66.5 percent) have recovered, including 19 discharged over the previous 24 hours, and 2,045 are receiving treatment. The death toll is unchanged from the 60 reported during the first wave.

The outbreak was first detected two weeks ago at a prawn market in Samut Sakhon, about 32 km from central Bangkok.

Thousands of migrant laborers from Myanmar work there.

Since then, almost 1,300 infections have been linked to the cluster and thousands of people have been quarantined.

Myanmar migrant workers in Samut Sakhon now face constant pressure and face discrimination and hate speech.

“Wherever you see Myanmar people, shoot them down,” read one Thai comment on YouTube after the surge in coronavirus cases among workers from Myanmar.

Sompong Srakaew of the Labor Protection Network, a Thai group helping migrant workers, said, “Myanmar people are being labeled for transmitting COVID-19, but the virus doesn’t discriminate.”

Thailand lists over 1 million registered migrant workers but the real figure is known to be much higher.

“Thai people won’t take the jobs they are doing,” Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin of Thailand’s COVID-19 taskforce said, as he pleaded for tolerance in a televised broadcast. “Today they are our family … Both Myanmar and Thai people are Buddhists.”

Turning a deaf ear to that appeal for compassion, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said last week that illegal immigration had brought a renewed outbreak to a country that until then had COVID-19 under control.

The prime minister has since softened his tone, but several Thai organizations including the independent Social Media Monitoring for Peace group have reported hundreds of comments classified as hate speech posted on social media—particularly on YouTube, but also on Facebook and Twitter. Many comments include racist language aimed at triggering discrimination and violence, the group said.

In early December, the World Health Organization (WHO) praised Thailand’s unity as the key to its success in getting through the first wave of COVID-19 relatively unscathed early this year.

Last week, a surge in COVID-19 cases in Thailand’s Rayong province was linked to gambling. This cluster is unrelated to the one affecting Myanmar migrant workers in Samut Sakhon.

Dr. Taweesilp said everyone should continue wearing face masks in public and avoid large gatherings, saying they can still hold small parties with close friends and family members.

He also took to task the gamblers in Rayong for withholding information about their activities, which he said could hamper health officials’ efforts to contain the virus, according to The Bangkok Post.

Thailand has signed an advance agreement with AstraZeneca to secure a supply of its COVID-19 vaccine and for local production with technology from the British-Swedish firm.

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