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Southern construction hot spots shut for a month

All construction workers’ camps in Bangkok and neighbouring provinces will be locked down for one month starting from Monday, along with sites of coronavirus clusters in the four southernmost provinces, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Friday.

The measures, announced after a meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), are intended to deal with the main sources of Covid-19 clusters over the past several weeks.

The situation in Bangkok, where acute-care beds are in very short supply, has become worrisome enough that a full lockdown was discussed. But authorities rejected the idea given the severe economic impact it would cause.

As well, there was concern that if the capital was locked down, workers would rush back to their home provinces and potentially bring Covid with them.

All areas where coronavirus clusters have been reported in Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla and Yala provinces will also be locked down for a month, Gen Prayut added.

The decision to use selective lockdowns was intended to contain the spread of the virus in the two regions hardest hit by the third wave of the pandemic. Nationwide cases in the last seven days have been rising at an average rate of 3,560 per day.

Gen Prayut said the Labour Ministry would be responsible for compensation and meals for all Thai and migrant workers who will be confined to their living quarters.

Other measures will include the postponement of a temporary employment scheme, also for one month, and a plan to limit the movements of people.

More details of the new measures will be released over the weekend, according to the prime minister.

“People will have less convenience during the period,” he said, but stressed there would be no curfew.

Gen Prayut said the more stringent measures would be assessed after one month to see if they had led to an improvement in the situation.

The prime minister also asked the public for cooperation by limiting travel.

“We must consider measures carefully so as not to worsen the health situation or the economy, while also speeding up the pace of vaccinations,” he said.

With the contagious Delta variant now spreading in the country, new clusters found mainly in housing for labourers have added to the strain on medical facilities and staff in the capital, challenging the government’s efforts to contain the surge that began in early April.

The Department of Disease Control had earlier proposed only spot lockdowns in Bangkok, and the suspension of “risky” businesses or activities as needed to contain the virus.

Health officials worry that total lockdowns could worsen the problem. An example was the closure of Markaz Islamic school in Yala, which led to Covid spreading to 11 provinces in the South.

“Officials wonder if a total lockdown would prompt workers to return to their home provinces, and spread the disease,” said Dr Apisamai Srirangson, a CCSA spokeswoman.

The department said lockdowns should be restricted to high-risk areas, such as areas frequented by migrant workers, workers’ camps, specific markets and specific sub-districts, she said.

Health officials were afraid that total lockdowns could worsen the problem. An example was the closure of Markaz Islamic school in Yala, which led to Covid-19 spreading to 11 provinces in the South.

“Officials wonder if a total lockdown would prompt workers to return to their home provinces, and spread the disease,” Dr Apisamai said.

CCSA officials earlier blamed workers’ failure to cooperate with movement restrictions for the persistently high rate of infections in Bangkok.

Health authorities are looking into imposing strict disease control measures in specific outbreak areas.

Dr Apisamai cited an outbreak at Simummuang market in tambon Khu Khot of Lum Luk Ka district in Pathumi Thani.

The 350-rai wholesale market serves a nationwide trading network involving large and small farms in the provinces, and draws about 20,000 customers and 20,000 vendors and migrant workers were there every day, she said.

Operations at the market could continue under effective disease control measures.

Its closure would affect a considerable number of related businesses, including food stalls in the vicinity of the market, Dr Apisamai said.

Bangkok now has 107 reported Covid clusters and has recorded 64,977 cases since the third wave began in early April.

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