Thailand uses drones for border surveillance as Covid-19 risk grows

The Thailand-Myanmar border is one of the key challenges for authorities to curb infection risks.
The Thailand-Myanmar border is one of the key challenges for authorities to curb infection risks.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand is stepping up border surveillance by deploying drones and ultraviolet cameras after dozens of new Covid-19 cases were found linked to a town in neighbouring Myanmar.

At least 16 people who illegally crossed the borders and avoided the mandatory 14-day quarantine have tested positive for coronavirus since late November, with two local transmissions being traced back to the group that came from Myanmar, according to officials.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered officials on Monday (Dec 7) to erect barricades along the porous border to stop illegal crossings and curb infection risks.

Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Tuesday that the virus situation is under control and that the latest bout of infections among those returning from Myanmar is not yet considered a second wave, as they can be traced.

The Thailand-Myanmar border is one of the key challenges for the authorities to curb infection risks, as the 2,414km boundary runs through mostly mountainous forests and uninhabited areas, making it difficult for surveillance. Military, police and volunteers have now been deployed to enforce stricter control of border areas.

The authorities in Thaland have managed to virtually eradicate the pathogen domestically. Total number of cases stood at 4,126, with the majority of recent cases found in quarantine among people arriving from other countries.

Myanmar, on the other hand, has seen spikes in infections over the past several weeks, adding more than 1,000 each day.

The Covid-19 surge has already hurt Thailand's domestic tourism, with some travellers cancelling their planned long weekend trips to the northern region, which borders Myanmar.

Any shutdown of border crossings between the two countries could also hurt Thailand's trade and the economic activities of border towns.

Thailand received about 1,200 foreign tourists in October, the first set of visitors in six months after the authorities unveiled a special long-stay tourist visa to revive the battered industry.

A revival in tourism, which netted more than US$60 billion (S$80 billion) in revenue from about 40 million visitors in 2019, is seen as key to returning the nation's economy to pre-pandemic levels.