Thailand Considers More Lockdowns as Seafood Workers Hit by Virus

Thailand said it may expand a lockdown, sending markets tumbling, as health authorities search for more than 10,000 people with ties to a record cluster of coronavirus cases found in a coastal province near Bangkok.

The country reported 382 Covid-19 new infections Monday, taking total cases linked to a seafood market in Samut Sakhon to about 1,000 since the first case was found Dec. 17. Several cases were also found in nearby provinces of Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Prakan. Thailand’s largest single outbreak brings to 5,289 the total of confirmed infections, based on Health Ministry data.

A lockdown imposed in Samut Sakhon may be extended to other districts, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said today. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said after a meeting with officials in his Covid-19 task force that he will decide within a week whether more stringent restrictions are needed.

“I would like to assess the situation for seven days to see if anything happens,” Prayuth said in Bangkok. “Thailand is still able to contain the outbreak, but we have also prepared measures.”

Thailand’s benchmark SET index sank 5.4%, its biggest plunge since March. Thai Union Group Pcl, one of the world’s biggest tuna processors, closed down 8.9% on Monday to 13.3 baht, while agro-industrial conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl, finished the day down 6.4%. Both firms have plants in Samut Sakhon Province. The Thai baht weakened by the most since April to 30.1 per dollar.

Read: Thailand’s Stocks Plunge as More Areas May Come Under Lockdown

While a lockdown hasn’t been imposed in Bangkok, the capital’s chief administrator said residents with businesses in the neighboring province should work from home and ordered more stringent screening of migrant workers. The Health Ministry, meanwhile, advised the nation’s 1,580 fresh-food markets to enforce strict measures to prevent the virus from spreading.

Migrant workers from Myanmar comprise about 90% of the infections found in the new cluster, with most employed at food-processing factories. The outbreak was tracked after a 67-year-old local fish merchant was confirmed to have the virus on Dec. 17.

“Migrant workers in the area live in crowded apartment, with about six people sharing a three-by-six room where they take turns using the room based on their morning or night shifts,” said Adisorn Keadmongkol, an official from Migrant Working Group Thailand. With the lockdown in place, they will be confined to their rooms and “the virus could spread further among people living in the communities,” he said.

The lockdown will spark economic losses of about 1 billion baht ($33.3 million) a day, and cause a rise in seafood prices, Maria Lapiz, managing director of Maybank Kim Eng Thailand, said in a report on Monday. Samut Sakhon is home to about 6,000 factories and is the nation’s sixth-largest provincial economy, contributing about 2.5% of Thailand’s gross domestic product, the report said.

Thailand was the first nation to report Covid-19 infections outside of China. It had been relatively successful in containing the virus, with a total of 5,289 infections as of Monday, and was betting on a tourism industry revival to pull the economy out of recession.

Thai Union Group, which owns Chicken of the Sea and John West brands, said in a statement on Monday that one of its workers tested positive for the virus, but all its domestic plants were still open.

“Should the unlikely worst-case scenario happen involving the total shutdown of all Thai Union Samut Sakhon plants for two weeks, this would have an impact of less than 2% of total revenue,” said Thiraphong Chansiri, chief executive officer Thai Union.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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