Director-general of the department Thares Krassanairawiwong said a new wave of COVID-19 infections in Samut Sakhon last week sparked grave concern among local residents as well as those who had visited at-risk areas.
The department asked all private hospitals nationwide to strictly comply with the Public Health Ministry’s announcement on medical costs incurred by COVID-19 patients, he said.
The ministry’s announcement stipulates that COVID-19 patients are emergency patients who must receive emergency medical care from hospitals.
The patients can receive free treatment at the hospital they have chosen under the government’s health welfare scheme. If necessary or in an emergency case, they can receive free treatment at any hospital, public or private, he said.
“At-risk people who want to be tested for the virus can receive a free test at any hospital. If they test positive for COVID-19, they will be treated free of charge,” Dr Thares said.
Other people who want to get tested without having been exposed to the virus have to pay for the test themselves, he said. “Hospitals that deny treatment to COVID-19 patients or charge them will be considered violating Section 36 of the Health Facility Act BE 2541. They will face imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of up to B40,000,” he warned.
Dr Thares said private hospitals must treat COVID-19 patients to the best of their ability.
Hospitals are prohibited from charging them, he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered a 1,000-bed field hospital be set up to treat COVID-19 patients in Samut Sakhon.
Defence spokesman Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantrawanit said the instructions were issued at a meeting of the Defence Council yesterday.
He added that the army and the navy would supply and equip the field hospital with 1,000 beds. It had still to be decided if it would be set up at a factory, in a residential zone or a military camp.
The field hospital must be in a place where there are the most patients, so that infected people would not have to be transported to areas outside, he said.
The outbreak in Samut Sakhon is centred on migrant worker communities.
Illegal immigration crackdown
The Prime Minister has also ordered police to form a special committee to investigate state officials involved in the smuggling of illegal migrants, which has been blamed for the latest COVID-19 outbreak.
Officials who facilitate illegal migration will be prosecuted with no exceptions, Lt Gen Kongcheep quoted the prime minister as saying.
The instructions were given at the Defence Council meeting chaired by Gen Prayut, the spokesman said.
Gen Prayut has also instructed all military units to step up surveillance and patrols along the border to prevent illegal entry by land and sea to curb the spread of the coronavirus from neighbouring countries. The prime minister had meanwhile ordered the arrest of traffickers of illegal migrants.
Police and administrative officials were instructed to establish checkpoints on routes believed to be used by traffickers of illegal labourers.
National police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk said yesterday police now have some clues about human traffickers and that they were targeting traffickers while illegal migrants would be spared.
The government would treat infected migrants for the good of their health and for the better well-being of all Thai people, he said.
It was time for migrant workers to believe in government officials, Pol Gen Suwat said, adding that the prime minister has assigned Deputy Defence Minister Chaichan Changmongkol to deal with the human trafficking issue.
Asked if there were any state officials involved in the smuggling of migrant workers, Pol Gen Suwat said that investigators were gathering evidence. Anyone found guilty will be prosecuted regardless of who they are, he said.
Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin also said that any officials from the ministry who were involved in the smuggling will face legal action.
Mr Suchart said that before the prime minister addressed the nation on the COVID-19 situation in a televised broadcast on Tuesday, he consulted the Labour Ministry on measures to be taken to deal with illegal traffickers.
Damrong Pudtan, a well-known television host and former senator, revealed on Facebook that his friend who is a businessman in the fishing industry told him that some employers had paid labour smuggling gangs to bring migrants for B10,000 each directly into Samut Sakhon via natural border passages.
Sources said gangs smuggled migrants for B10,000-30,000 each directly to Samut Sakhon.
Speaking at Government House yesterday, Gen Prayut expressed concern about unregistered migrant workers, and warned that tough action will be taken against illegal labour smuggling gangs.
“Some employers are selfish. They hired illegal migrant workers and did not pay them wages stipulated by law. I am tackling the problem and targeting these gangs,” the prime minister said.
Gen Prayut said that another concern is that some factories that employ illegal migrants decided to sack the workers or abandon them to avoid legal penalties.
Gen Prayut also said the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) will today decide whether and how New Year celebrations will be conducted.
The meeting will also come up with a map using colours such as green, orange and red to illustrate COVID-19 risk levels in provinces affected by the disease, the prime minister said.