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Thailand lets migrant workers leave for Laos despite border closure

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The bus terminal in Nakhon Phanom township is crowded with Lao and Vietnamese migrant workers who arrived from Bangkok and surrounding provinces following the shutdown orders. Bangkok Post

NAKHON PHANOM, Thailand (Bangkok Post) – Lao and Vietnamese migrant workers were being allowed to leave Thailand across the Friendship Bridge to Thakhek in Khammouane province of Laos on Monday, even though all border checkpoints were ordered closed on Sunday night to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday morning, the bus terminal in the Nakhon Phanom Municipality was crowded with Lao and Vietnamese workers arriving from Bangkok and surrounding provinces, where shopping malls and other crowded places have been shut down.

Despite the border being closed from 10pm on Sunday, they were being allowed to pass through immigration and cross to Laos over the 3rd Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge to Thakhek. Otherwise, they would be stranded in growing numbers on the Thai side of the border.

Buses were arranged to take them across the border bridge.

This special arrangement was for migrant workers only, not ordinary travellers.

Migrant workers preparing to cross to Laos were seen buying quantities of dried food, especially instant noodles, to take with them. It was not known when the border would be reopened and they could return.

Meanwhile, Thai workers returning to their home provinces from Bangkok are being told to go into 14-day self-isolation.

Since Bangkok and surrounding provinces were locked down, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima and Udon Thani have followed suit. Buri Ram was the first but has reported only one cofirmed Covid-19 case – a British national who arrived from the US and admitted himself for medical treatment.

The partial lockdown of Bangkok and the order by the Interior Ministry to close 18 border points taking effect on Monday triggered a massive exodus of Thais and foreign workers from Bangkok for their hometowns on Sunday.

Mor Chit Bus Terminal in Chatuchak district of Bangkok saw around 80,000 passengers leaving for their hometowns. Staff ramped up public health security by ensuring passengers wear face masks. However, few were able to observe “social distancing” among the large crowds packing into stations or buses.

While the agency is increasing buses to cater to demand, it is in need of body temperature scanners and alcohol-based sanitising gel.

While Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok reported no particular increase in passengers volumes, it said it observed strict public health guidelines.

The exodus of workers from Bangkok came as Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul urged people in Bangkok and adjacent provinces to work from home for 14 days to slow the spread of Covid-19.

However, many foreign labourers left for the border ahead of moves to close border crossings from Monday, hoping to return to their hometowns in neighbouring countries.

Others, meanwhile, want to escape the partial lockdown in Bangkok for the relative freedom of the provinces, where shops are still open and they still have chance of finding work.

The Department of Disease Control issued letters ordering provincial governors to monitor people leaving Bangkok and its adjacent provinces, create a database of passengers and ensure vehicles are cleaned.

Teacher Pawida Sae-Ho said she was in two minds whether to join the exodus. However, after public health authorities made their plea for the public to stay close to home, she decided not to leave for her hometown in Yala’s Betong.

Ms Pawida, teacher at a private school on Rama II Road, said she would work from home instead. “At first, I wanted to take a flight back to Yala because I feared that all the shops here would close.

However, the call by public health officials changed my mind because I could be a carrier and pose a danger to my family,” she said.

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