They are among between 3,000 and 4,000 people expected to return to the country following the month-long border closure that Malaysia imposed on March 18 as part of its campaign to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Kuala Lumpur has extended its nationwide lockdown, which it calls a “movement control order”, until April 28 but agreed to reopen the border with Thailand.
Thai authorities plan to limit returnee numbers to 300 per day in order to ensure effective COVID-19 screening and prevention based on the facilities available, amid concerns that some returnees might be infected.
Fourth Army chief Lt Gen Pornsak Poonsawat visited the Sadao immigration checkpoint in Songkhla to observe the handling of returnees yesterday before travelling to the Sungai Kolok checkpoint in Narathiwat.
All returnees are required to undergo health screening. Lt Gen Pornsak said the screening was thorough and went smoothly, with several agencies cooperating.
There have been concerns that some Thai people might sneak into the country illegally via natural border crossings, and patrols have been stepped up. Lt Gen Pornsak said authorities had a strategy for dealing with this eventuality.
“In case they enter the country illegally, we must accommodate them because all are Thais,” he told reporters. “However, they must be taken into the formal system with the law enforced against them for illegal entry.
“They will then be sent to undergo the disease screening system. Border defence forces have been put on full alert along border areas around the clock.”
The Sungai Kolok River in Narathiwat is proving to be a popular place to attempt an unauthorised crossing. Yesterday, paramilitary rangers patrolling the river bank in tambon Pasemas rounded up a total of 130 Thai adults and children who had crossed over. The previous day, 94 people were caught, fined and placed in quarantine.
All of yesterday’s illegal returnees, most of them Pattani residents, were taken to the Sungai Kolok checkpoint for screening. They were fined B800 each for illegal entry before being sent to their home province for a 14-day quarantine.
Of the 262 Thais who returned legally yesterday, 100 entered via Sadao, 91 via Sungai Kolok, 20 via Betong in Yala, 35 via Wang Prachan in Satun and 16 via Tammalang in Satun.
Authorities have prepared 67 sites in southern border provinces as local quarantine centres for returnees.
Thirteen returnees entering via Sadao reportedly had a high fever and were sent to a local hospital for further examination.
Pol Col Supachart Vetchaporn, superintendent of the Narathiwat immigration office, said yesterday that only Thais who were stranded in Malaysia would be allowed to enter the country on condition that they register with the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Returnees are required to show letters from the embassy or the consulate, in which they agree to undergo a 14-day quarantine once they are back in the country, he said.