Myanmar Migrant Worker Says His Seafood Market Boss Started Chain of COVID-19 Infections

A Myanmar migrant worker in Thailand who became infected with the coronavirus said Wednesday that he contracted the illness from his Thai employer in a huge seafood market…

A Myanmar migrant worker in Thailand who became infected with the coronavirus said Wednesday that he contracted the illness from his Thai employer in a huge seafood market compound in coastal Samut Sakhon province near the capital Bangkok.

On Monday, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and health officials said that foreign workers who entered the country illegally were the likely source of a record outbreak of COVID-19 detected at Thailand’s largest fresh seafood market complex, where hundreds of migrants from Myanmar have been infected.

Myanmar migrant worker Aung Shwe, who has been confirmed positive for COVID-19 and is being treated at a hospital in Bangkok, said he was infected by his boss, who tested positive for the virus first.

“Then, her mother, sister, and sister-in-law all tested positive,” he said. “Then, a shrimp buyer in the market compound also tested positive. I am the sixth person who tested positive.”

Though Aung Shwe, who feels normal despite having the virus, said his boss was suffering because the virus had entered her lungs.

“We worked together, and she had not been feeling well for a while,” he said.

“Sometimes she wore a face mask, but other times she didn’t,” he said. “After three days, she went to a clinic. The next thing I know is the authorities came to take me, my wife, my kid, and my colleague and his wife. Later, I was informed that I was infected, and I was sent to this hospital.”

Until Dec. 17, Thailand had contained the number of COVID-19 infections to only about 4,200 since the first case was detected there in January, compared to much higher numbers in other Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar.

But on Monday, the number of cases shot to nearly 5,300 after more than 900 cases — mostly among migrant workers from Myanmar — were confirmed positive at the market, health authorities said. About 5,000 of the workers have been locked down in the province.

By Wednesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Thailand was 5,762 with 60 total deaths, while Myanmar reported 118,869 confirmed cases and 2,507 deaths.

“Thai public health officials stated that 90 percent of these positive cases are Myanmar migrant workers,” said Khaing Gyi, director of Thailand-based Aid Alliance Committee (AAC), a group that provides assistance to Myanmar workers in Thailand.

“The Thai government has not released details of how they have quarantined these 900-some patients,” he added. “Now, migrant workers are concerned whether they are among the 5,000 workers who have been placed under lockdown.”

‘It’s not like before’

Khaing Gyi also said that the news has prompted discriminatory behavior towards Myanmar citizens in Thailand.

“Some shops don’t want to sell to Myanmar customers,” he said. “People treat those from Myanmar differently on buses. It is not like before. Myanmar migrant workers are now living under suspicion.”

After the outbreak at the market complex, officials from a local plastics factory in the province took 14 Myanmar migrant workers and deserted them outside Bangkok Tuesday night. Six of the workers were in the country legally, but the others were not, Khaing Gyi said.

“Their boss lied to them, saying that they had to work in a different location,” he said. “They constantly called us after they were taken away. Their boss left them beside a road and never went back.”

The AAC contacted a local police station and Thailand’s Ministry of Labor for assistance. Authorities inspected the workers and placed them in quarantine, Khaing Gyi said.

RFA could not reach for comment labor officials at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok who reportedly met with the abandoned Myanmar workers.

The embassy officials visited the locked down sections of the Mahachai Market in Samut Sakhon province on Wednesday and worked with local Thai authorities, health officials, and charities to provide basic assistance to the affected workers and to those awaiting COVID-19 tests, he said.

The AAC also requested that Myanmar Embassy officials provide phone numbers for workers to call in case of arrest by Thai authorities, though officials announced there would be no arrests of illegal immigrants during the pandemic, Khaing Gyi said.

About 3 million Myanmar citizens work in Thailand, with an estimated 500,000 legal and illegal migrants working in Samut Sakhon province, he said.

Reported by Nayrein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.

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