The move follows Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew on Sunday ordering all officials to ramp up efforts to screen for potential carriers of the virus following the outbreak in Samut Sakhon, on the outskrts of Bangkok, where the number of confirmed COVID-19 patients had reached 821 by last night. The vast majority – 788 – were migrant workers and the other 33 were Thais.
The Public Health Ministry tested 4,688 people in the province over the weekend and will complete testing the 5,612 others it deemed to be at risk today.
The CCSA recorded 382 new infections yesterday, 360 of whom were migrant workers, as health authorities sped up screening migrant workers in Samut Sakhon potentially linked with the province’s central shrimp market, a new virus hotspot.
Fourteen new local transmissions were also recorded yesterday – one in Ayutthaya, two in Nakhon Pathom, three in Samut Prakan, five in Samut Sakhon, two in Bangkok and one in Tak, said Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA). All 14 were linked with the shrimp market, he said.
The number of infections linked to the Samut Sakhon outbreak was likely to keep rising, he warned, given the fact that most Myanmar workers lived together in the same apartments. The results of about 2,600 tests are still pending.
Health authorities now aim to test a further 10,300 migrant workers believed to be linked with the infected workers, he said.
Phuket Police Chief Maj Gen Pornsak said that the Royal Thai Police headquarters had now ordered screening of all people traveling in and out of the province, and that his officers were especially focussing on people travelling inbound into the province.
“Everyone must be screened. The province has ordered tight controls on this matter due to the spread of COVID-19 at Samut Sakhon and provinces in the central region, especially among migrant workers in some provinces. Strict preventive measures have been put in place,” Maj Gen Pornsak said.
Police at the Phuket Check Point in Tha Chatchai, the only road onto the island, are working with officers from relevant departments who are now stationed at the checkpoint, Maj Gen Pornsak noted.
“The screening is being carried out 24 hours a day. If any people from risk groups or people with exceedingly high body temperatures are found, they will be tested accordingly,” he said.
“Phuket Provincial Police will conduct a screening of all vehicles, especially all types of buses, which must be rigorously screened before entering Phuket,” Maj Gen Pornsak explained.
“This policy will be intensely applied until the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic in the central provinces improves.,” he added.
Maj Gen Pornsak also emphasised that all Thai citizens must be carrying their government ID cards when passing through the checkpoint.
“And all people must wear a face mask every time when leave the house,” he said.
Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew inspected the checkpoint last night to observe the screening in action.
Governor Narong said that rigorous screening of all arrivals at all ports of entry to Phuket must be applied.
“Especially all types of buses and vehicles that transport people into the area. All potential carriers must be screened, especially foreign workers who may be entering the area by public transport,” he said.
Meanwhile, health officials have begun sweeping migrant worker camps across the island to check for workers who might have recently arrived from Myanmar, Governor Narong noted.
Member employers of the Phuket Fisheries Association met yesterday to begin identifying any workers who have returned from delivering seafood and prawns to Samut Sakhon province since Dec 1, he added.
Phuket International Airport General Manager Thanee Chuangchoo yesterday confirmed to The Phuket News that screening of all domestic passengers was now being applied at the airport.
Governor Narong also urged people to report any migrant workers suspected of being smuggled into Phuket by calling 094-593 8876 or the 1567 special hotline set up.
The intensive screening measures were likely to cause delays for people travelling through the checkpoint, Gov Narong admitted.
“I apologise to all people traveling to Phuket at this time. It may be inconvenient, but this is in order to control and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The provincial government therefore has to have an intensive preventive measure to prevent an epidemic in the area,” Governor said.
While Governor Narong has avoided any mention of the possibility of Phuket being placed under lockdown to prevent COVID-19 from reaching the island, Phuket Provincial Health Office Chief Thanit Sermkaew told The Phuket News, “There is no need for any lockdown right now. The situation has not reached that stage yet, so please remain calm.”
Additional reporting by Eakkapop Thongtub