A waitress wearing a face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19 serves food to customers at a seaside restaurant in Bangpu on the outskirts of Bangkok on Jan. 10. (Photo: AFP)
Nearly 300 migrant workers from Myanmar have been allowed to leave a field hospital in a central Thai province after they were deemed to have recovered from Covid-19, which has potentially infected thousands of migrant workers in the country in recent weeks.
As many as 292 migrant workers were discharged on Jan. 10 from a field hospital set up for Covid-19 patients inside a sports stadium in Samut Sakhon, a province near Bangkok that has become the epicenter of a second outbreak of the coronavirus in Thailand.
The migrant workers bid a heartfelt goodbye to medical personnel at the facility before they were taken back in military trucks to a large shrimp market where they live and work as menial laborers.
“At the market, they were welcomed back with open arms by fellow migrants,” a Thai newspaper reported.
Many other migrant workers who have tested positive for Covid-19 are also receiving treatment at various medical facilities. It is expected that they, too, will be given a clean bill of health soon, according to officials.
The province’s Central Shrimp Market has been closed since Dec. 19 when the first Covid-19 infections among people who work there were documented.
Since the closure, numerous migrant workers from Myanmar in the province, known as a seafood hub in Thailand, have been out of a job. However, the market is expected to reopen at the end of this month, according to officials.
By Jan. 11 there had been well over 3,500 confirmed Covid-19 connected to Samut Sakhon, which is home to an estimated 400,000 migrant workers from Myanmar.
More than 3,100 of those testing positive had been people living in the province, particularly migrant workers, most of whom were asymptomatic.
The large scale of infections caused alarm in a country that previously appeared to have brought the pandemic under control within its borders with no documented local transmissions for several months.
The release of the nearly 300 Burmese migrant workers from medical facilities has been seen as a positive development for these low-wage earners as they have been widely blamed for triggering a second outbreak of the virus in Thailand.
Several senior officials, including the prime minister and its health minister, laid the blame on migrant workers in Samut Sakhon for the renewed outbreak and some Thai citizens took to social media to lob xenophobic accusations at Burmese migrants.
At the same time, however, other Thais have rallied to the side of the migrants by highlighting their valuable contributions to the economy. Several small businesses began donating food to newly unemployed migrants out of solidarity.
Before the pandemic, up to 4 million migrants, primarily from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, worked in Thailand, especially in such key sectors as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.
Most of the migrants are employed in menial jobs on low wages at workplaces where exploitation and abuse are often routine, according to labor rights advocates.
After the outbreak of Covid-19 last month, numerous migrant workers from Myanmar lost their jobs, at least temporarily, as their places of work were shut down in a bid to control the spread of the disease.