Covid-19 Testing at Workers’ Quarters in Thailand Go Quiet, Raising Concerns

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Authorities at the O’Smach International Border Checkpoint check temperatures of Cambodian workers returning from Thailand, in a photograph posted to the Immigration Department’s Facebook page on March 23, 2020.

Regular Covid-19 testing at migrant workers’ accommodations in Thailand has abruptly stopped, a labor advocate said, raising concerns of Cambodians going untreated in the foreign country.

Leung Sophon, rights group Central’s Thailand-based project officer, said routine testing at workers’ residences — which have been hotspots in the country’s ongoing Covid-19 surge — haven’t been reported for over a week.

“They’ve suspended it, it appears,” Sophon said, suggesting it could be due to pressures on the Thai health system as cases rise.

The concern was that fewer Cambodians in Thailand would receive treatment for Covid-19, he said.

“I think it’s very risky for Cambodian workers,” he said. Due to language barriers, lack of documentation and other difficulties, many were reluctant or unable to go to hospitals themselves, he said. Sophon has also previously raised concern that many migrant workers were in lockdown areas, further preventing them from seeking help.

So far, migrant workers had been well taken care of after positive tests. But without testing, “it seems like they will be left behind without treatment. It creates greater challenges and more fear for them,” he said.

Meanwhile, vaccinations for migrant workers were free, but slow, he said. Bigger factory employers had procured their own vaccinations, he added.

Thailand is seeing over 10,000 new Covid-19 cases a day, almost double the rate compared to the beginning of the month. Many of the cases have been found in crowded migrant quarters.

The Thai Embassy in Cambodia could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but said in an email earlier this week that the virus was putting tremendous pressure on the country’s health care system.

It said authorities were continuing to closely monitor risk areas and conduct active case finding and testing, as well as the vaccination of residents and arrangements for more field hospital beds.

“As far as the access to healthcare is concerned, all migrant workers can receive COVID-19 testing and treatment as part of our efforts to combat the pandemic in a holistic and inclusive manner,” the embassy said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thailand had mechanisms for home Covid-19 treatment via video calls with doctors, and if patients’ symptoms turn severe, they can get treatment at hospitals. The Cambodian Embassy had been working closely with their Thai counterparts, he added.

“In principle, we have seen in the past that Thailand has actively provided support, tests, treatment and vaccination services to both Thais and foreign workers,” Kuong said. “A small shortage may not be possible to prevent because the challenges are happening widely. I think that we should trust and give the hosts a chance and we should not worry too much.”

According to a report from the Migrant Working Group, citing Thai authorities, 10,455 Cambodians have contracted Covid-19 in Thailand from April 1 to July 22. They are the second-worst affected nationality behind Myanmar, with 58,884 infections.

Update: In an email late Friday, the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh said some proactive screening centers were closed because different agencies were operating centers in the same areas. The budget saved from the closures would be used to help migrant workers in other ways, it said.

“Currently there are still other proactive screening centers run by local administrations and departments of disease control of each area, where migrant workers can have COVID-19 test as needed and we encourage them to do so, if they are in doubt, to help prevent the spread of the pandemic,” the embassy said.

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