The move follows a Myanmar woman being found in Phuket last week after avoiding a COVID-19 test in Phang Nga, the province immediately north of Phuket.
The woman had been staying in Phuket and working at a local market.
Officials later announced that the woman, who had confessed to entering the country illegally, had tested negative for the virus.
The move also comes as efforts are ramped up in Phang Nga, the province immediately north of Phuket, and at all border crossings with Myanmar following the Tachilek scare that has so far resulted in at least 49 infections being found in Thailand associated with people returning from the Myanmar town and thousands of people tested for COVID-19.
In announcing that the Myanmar woman found in Phuket testing negative for the virus, Phuket Vice Governor Phichet Panaphong noted that the announcement was made in order to calm fears on the island that the woman is infected with the virus, V/Gov Phichet explained.
“I share this statement to help relieve people’s fears in Phuket and please do not panic,” he said.
“At this time, Phuket Province has set measures to find any immigrants from neighboring countries who illegally pass a disease-scanning process so that we can prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
However, by that time the woman’s arrival in Phuket unchecked had raised serious concerns about the current protection measures in place. She had fled Takua Pa Hospital in Phang Nga, boarded a bus to Phuket and disembarked near the Phuket Technology College in Thalang at about 9am on Dec 2.
That information was released by Phang Nga health officials, not officials in Phuket.
The woman’s arrival also occurred despite Phuket Provincial Police Commander Maj Gen Pornsak Nuannoo telling The Phuket News on Monday (Dec 7) that his officers had ramped up their efforts to check all Myanmar nationals at the Phuket Check Point to ensure they were fully legal.
Maj Gen Pornsak said his officers had increased their checks since Dec 1, the day that Phuket Vice Governor Phichet first gave the order for officials to ramp up their efforts.
In handing down the order on Dec 1, V/Gov Phichet clearly explained that the provincial order followed a direct order from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for all provinces to increase virus protection measures, especially for new arrivals from Myanmar.
Maj Gen Pornsak also admitted that as of Monday there were still no health officers at the Phuket Check Point to conduct any tests on Myanmar nationals arriving on the island.
“I am waiting for the Phuket Governor to order health officials to cooperate [sic] and have the correct equipment [assigned] to scan migrants entering at the Phuket Check Point in Tha Chatchai,” he said.
“I don’t know when the Phuket Governor will order this. I hope it is soon,” he added.
Maj Gen Pornsak also admitted that the Myanmar woman passing through the checkpoint unchecked was a ‘shortcoming’ of police stationed at the checkpoint. “We are working the best we can,” he said.
Phuket Public Health Office (PPHO) Chief Dr Thanit Sermkaew explained to The Phuket News on Monday that having no health officers stationed full time at the Phuket Check Point was intentional.
“Health officers will respond immediately if any officers there report a suspicious case. While the health official is on the way to the scene, officers already there can control the situation,” he said.
“I want people to be confident in health officials’ procedures, which have been prepared to deal with cases of returnees and to prevent a second wave of COVID-19. We have experience and a working plan already,” Dr Thanit said.
Meanwhile, officers from the Phuket Provincial Employment Office have been conducting checks of Myanmar workers across the island, to confirm they are COVID-free and to check for illegal migrant workers – again, in accordance with the order handed down by V/Gov Phichet on Dec 1.
“Phuket has about 59,000 migrant workers, especially Myanmar nationals, which comprise about 80% of all the migrant workers in the province,” V/Gov Phichet said.
“I want local officials to intensively keep eyes on Myanmar workers in Phuket and search for illegal workers,” he added.
“Officers from the Phuket Public Health Office must coordinate with other relevant officers to check workers in entertainment venues and other workplaces,” V/Gov Phichet noted.
PPEO Chief Santi Nantasuwan told The Phuket News on Monday that his officers had launched their campaign to check Myanmar workers on the island, noting that on Dec 4 alone his officers checked 39 Myanmar workers at nine workplaces, which included restaurants and retail shops.
“Most of them actually live and stay in Phuket. They have not left the country since the COVID-19 outbreak began,” he added.
In line with an order from Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew issued last Friday, the PPEO had met with some 100 employers and “urged” them to report any illegal migrant workers they are aware of, Mr Santi confirmed.
“They all raised their hands to show their full cooperation to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in Phuket,” he said.
“We knew people are scared because of the news. Please do not be worried because we are doing our job as we are cooperating with employers, health officials and immigration officials already,” Mr Santi said.
Mr Santi made no mention of what legal ramifications awaited any employers found illegally hiring a migrant worker.
However, Phuket health chief Dr Thanit said he was confident that the Myanmar community itself would report any illegal new arrivals.
“Remember, we must be confident in this process and be united to protect Phuket from COVID-19,” he said.