Thailand uses drones for border surveillance as virus risk grows

A Patrouille de France officer patrols with a drone at the cross-border with Spain in southwestern France, on Nov 13. Currently, Thailand is deploying drones and UV cameras along its border with Myanmar. — Raymond Roig/AFP

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 Prayuth Chan-Ocha ordered officials on Dec 7 to erect barricades along the porous border to stop illegal crossings and curb infection risks.

The virus situation is "under control” and the latest bout of infections among those returning from Myanmar isn’t yet considered a second wave as they can be traced, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Dec 8.

Thailand-Myanmar border is one of the key challenges for authorities to curb infection risks as the 1,500-mile (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.

Total cases in Thailand stood at 4,126 where authorities have managed to virtually eradicated the pathogen domestically, 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 domestic tourism, with some travelers 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 authorities unveiled a special long-stay tourist visa to revive the battered industry. A revival in tourism, which netted more than US$60bil in revenue from about 40 million visitors in 2019, is seen as key to returning the nation’s economy to the pre-pandemic levels. – Bloomberg

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