Covid-19 outbreak at shrimp market in Thailand prompts mass testing of thousands

Thailand began mass testing of thousands of people for Covid-19 and extended curbs on movement, a day after locking down a province following the country’s worst outbreak yet.

The outbreak at a shrimp market in Samut Sakhon, a province southwest of Bangkok and a centre of the seafood industry that is home to thousands of migrant workers.

Four cases were reported there on Friday and that number had jumped to 689 by Sunday, the public health ministry said. Thailand had previously kept the epidemic in check, recording little more than 5,000 COVID-19 cases.

Kiattiphum Wongrajit, the ministry’s permanent secretary said up to 40,000 people would be tested in Samut Sakhon and nearby provinces, with over 10,000 tests to be conducted by Wednesday.

Migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar, lined up for testing on Sunday, along with some Thais. Most cases identified so far have been asymptomatic, health officials said.

Barbed wire surrounded the market on Sunday

Authorities in Bangkok ordered all schools in three districts in the capital that have borders with Samut Sakhon, 45 km away by road, to close until January 4.

The province is due to stay under lockdown and nighttime curfew during this time.

Authorities in Bangkok also called on people to step up preventive measures by avoiding gatherings, while entertainment venues and restaurants must observe social distancing.

Organisers of New Year celebrations were told to seek official permission to go ahead, while companies were urged to get staff to work from home if possible.

Neighbouring Cambodia meanwhile toughened requirements for people entering the country from Thailand.

The surge in coronavirus cases comes as Thailand attempts to revive a tourist industry devastated by the pandemic. On Thursday, it eased restrictions to allow more foreign tourists to return.