1,063 new cases of Covid-19 were discovered in Samut Sakhon as of Tuesday (22 December), while the province has been put under lockdown effective until 3 January.
Health officials screening a group of migrant workers in at-risk area on 19 December (Photo from Raks Thai Foundation)
New cases were first reported last Thursday (18 December), after family members of a seafood vendor who tested positive for Covid-19 were also found to have the virus.
The number then continued to rise over the weekend as over 500 cases were confirmed on Saturday (19 December), and over 100 were confirmed on Sunday (20 December) and Monday (21 December). 242 additional cases were then confirmed on Tuesday morning (22 December).
As of Tuesday, 1,063 cases have been confirmed.
Wichan Pawan, Director of the Institute for Urban Disease Prevention and Control, said that, of these cases, 33 people were found through hospital testing and tracking those who came into contact with previous patients and 788 were found during mobile testing in the communities. He also said that some people who tested positive were people who came to the market and left the province, and that these cases have been found in Samut Prakan, Saraburi, Bangkok, and Nakhon Pathom. He also said that cases are expected to rise as active testing continues both in Samut Sakhon and in other at-risk areas.
Officials have also said that 6,156 people have been tested so far, of whom 3,808 have received their results.
Wichan said that 4,688 people have been tested in Samut Sakhon, of whom 1,861 have received their results. He also said that cases are expected to rise as active testing continues both in Samut Sakhon and in other at-risk areas.
Khaosod English reported that access to the Central Shrimp Market, one of Thailand’s largest seafood markets and the epicenter of the new outbreak, and its associated housing has been blocked with razor wire and police officers. It also reported that, according to health officials, most of those infected are migrant workers from Myanmar, who live close to the market in crowded accommodations.
Opas Karnkawinpong, Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, said that around 90% of the new cases either show very mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, and that most of the cases are migrant workers. However, he said that he is confident the relevant agencies will be able to handle the situation, as the cases are still being found in a limited area, and there has been no severe case. He also said that, while it is likely more cases will be found in crowded migrant worker communities around the shrimp market, they are low-risk groups as most people are working age and healthy.
Meanwhile, Samut Sakhon Governor Weerasak Wijitsaengsri has declared a provincial lockdown effective until 3 January. The Central Shrimp Market and the Sri Muang dormitory have also been declared off-limits while disease control operations are carried out.
People in the province are asked not to travel to other provinces, and those who have visited the Central Shrimp Market since 1 December are asked to observe their own symptoms of the next 14 days, and to self-isolate and wear face masks at all times.
Entertainment venues, sport stadiums, boxing stadiums, schools and other educational institutions, tutorial schools, shopping malls, cinemas, and spas in the Samut Sakhon area are to close between 19 December – 3 January. Meanwhile, restaurants and other places selling food are allowed to sell only takeaway, and convenience stores are to close between 22.00 – 5.00.
The Department of Rail Transport has also announced that trains travelling across provincial borders will not stop at any station in Samut Sakhon, and that no train will run between 22.00 – 5.00 in the province. Passengers traveling to or from Samut Sakhon will also have to fill out travel information forms for disease-tracking purposes. Identification documents will also be checked to prevent migrant workers from leaving or entering the province.
The local elections on Sunday (20 December), however, went ahead as planned, along with local elections in other provinces across the country.
The cases found as part of the new outbreak are the first cases of local transmission to be found in Thailand since May. However, the country remains under the nationwide State of Emergency declared in March, which has been repeatedly extended even during the time when no local cases were found and is now in effect until 15 January 2021. Civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19, have said that the measures adopted under the Emergency Decree to combat the pandemic have instead been used against peaceful protesters and critics of the government, at least 73 of whom are facing charges under the Decree for participating in pro-democracy protests.