Thai authorities announced the closure of the border between Mae Sai in Thailand and Tachileik in eastern Shan State over the weekend but on Monday allowed hundreds of Burmese migrant workers to go back home after undergoing medical checks.
Thailand has since officially closed the “friendship bridge” to Burma amid fears of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
More than 200 migrant workers from Bangkok and Chiang Mai arrived at the Thai side of the bridge on the early morning of March 23, hoping to cross. Authorities from both countries discussed what to do, eventually allowing them to enter Burma.
“Actually, they already announced that they would close the bridge today. However, many migrant workers arrived at the bridge, so they opened the bridge again,” an immigration officer working in Tachileik told SHAN, referring to the Thai authorities.
The Thai immigration officers issued re-entry visas for Burmese migrant workers at the border checkpoint, then authorities from both countries checked the workers for fever.
Thailand’s health ministry reported on Monday that there are 721 cases of COVID-19 in the country, with one death and seven people in critical condition.
More than 10,000 Burmese migrant workers have returned to Burma across Thai border crossings in recent days due to the impact of the virus.
In a meeting in Naypyidaw on March 22, Burma’s health minister Dr. Myint Htwe, said that the mass returns could increase the rate of transmission of the coronavirus, but that quarantine was impossible, but they are recommended to “self-quarantine,” a task that has been deemed difficult in Burma, where families live in close quarters.
Locals in Tachileik told SHAN that they are worried about the implications of large numbers of people being forced to travel in close proximity and return to villages, which, until now may have been isolated from the pandemic.
“I am so scared, because many people have returned to Burma from Thailand. Villages need to monitor these people and their health,” Tachileik local Sai Shwe told SHAN.
Burma only just reported its first two cases of coronavirus on Monday. Eight people suspected of suffering from the virus have already died, including a man in Kengtung and a woman in Kesi, Shan State.