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Village lockdowns mulled if returning workers have COVID-19

Taing Vida / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Military police in Banteay Meanchey help transport workers returning from Thailand through Poipet. GRK Banthey Meanchey

Authorities are in the process of locating and identifying the majority of about 15,000 migrant workers who fled back to the Kingdom on Sunday before Thailand closed its borders.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng said yesterday most of them had returned to their home villages. Authorities may lock down villages if more than two of migrants test positive for COVID-19.

“Because their jobs were suspended and they were also scared of the virus spread in Thailand, they returned to the Kingdom,” Mr Kheng said. “But the problem is, when they all came at the same time like this, we could not monitor and check their health. We can’t even have all of them self-isolated for 14 days.”

A border official scans the temperature of a returning worker. Supplied

He however said, relevant authorities are gathering information about migrant workers who have recently returned home and will check their health.

Mr Kheng said in view of this situation, the government is also considering to lock down any village where more than two migrant workers from Thailand are found to have contracted the coronavirus.

“We may lock down a house, or half a village if the houses are close together. We must ensure they will not go anywhere,” he said. “If there is a village where two or three people have contracted the virus, we will close that village or even some nearby villages.”

Mr Kheng said he has already proposed such a measure to Prime Minister Hun Sen in order to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Soeum Bunrith, deputy governor of Battambang province, said yesterday provincial authorities have prepared a high school to conduct health checks for migrants and a hotel with 48 rooms equipped with necessary medical equipment on standby for patients.

“We have registered a total of 3,097 migrant workers who returned to Battambang province. Some of them have received temperature and pulse rate checks and we are continuing conducting the checks,” he said. “Migrants are advised to immediately see a doctor if they observe changes in their health condition.”

Mr Bunrith also said provincial authorities have been informed about the possibility of a lockdown of villages where the disease is detected.

Banteay Meanchey military police help transport workers. GRK Banteay Meanchey

“This is vital to prevent the spread of the virus. We must lock down half or a whole village if needed,” he said.

Banteay Meanchey provincial health department director Keo Sopheaktra said yesterday nearly 500 migrants who recently returned from Thailand came for health checks.

“We have collected their information and gave them appointments to appear over the next three days to monitor their health. I can say they represent only half of the migrants who returned to the province. We are now searching for the remainder so we can advice them to isolate themselves,” he said.

Mr Sopheaktra noted migrants whose body temperature had exceeded 37 degrees are now being quarantined at the provincial referral hospital.

Pok Samnang, 33, a migrant worker who spent two years working at a garment factory in Thailand’s Chonburi province, said by phone yesterday he returned to his home in Takeo province on Sunday evening and is self-monitoring.

“I stay in a small house alone. I did not allow my wife and two children to come close to me. They are living in a different house with my parents. I have to wait until there are no symptom of the  disease before I free myself,” he said.

Mr Samnang noted he had his body temperature and pulse rate checked yesterday and was allowed to return home.

“At first, I was hesitant to see the doctors because I was afraid they might keep me in a place far away from my family. Then I learned this is the only way to ensure that I am healthy and have no infection,” he said.

Dy The Hoya, a programme officer at labour rights group Central, yesterday called on the government to ensure other migrant workers who could not return home are being taken care of in Thailand during this difficult time.

“I hope the government will cooperate with Thai authorities to disseminate preventative measures against the COVID-19 disease to the workers and arrange to help them to continue staying in Thailand although their visas have expired,” he said. “The arrangement should also cover illegal migrant workers,” he said.

Returning migrant workers from Thailand wait for transport. GRK Banteay Meanchey

Mr The Hoya said the government should also figure out ways to provide food and necessary equipment to migrant workers who are unemployed and living in Thailand to prevent them from trying to travel and return home.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced yesterday the government will issue an emergency decree, which will empower authorities to impose curfews, ban travels, and close down buildings without warrants.

The emergency decree will be effective from tomorrow to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Xinhua news agency.

According to the Cambodian consulate in Thailand’s Sakaeo province, the Thai government ordered the closure of the country’s border checkpoint adjacent to Poipet city from Monday until April 5.

Five other Thai provinces have closed their borders with Cambodia until further notice, the consulate said.

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