Thais who drove Chinese tourists among new virus cases

This handout from the Royal Thai Navy taken and released on Feburary 4, 2020 shows navy officials preparing for the arrival of a plane carrying Thai nationals who had been evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, at U-Tapao Airport in Rayong. (Photo by Handout / ROYAL THAI NAVY / AFP)

BANGKOK, THAILAND (AFP) — Two Thai drivers who came into contact with Chinese tourists were among six new cases of coronavirus reported Tuesday, bringing to 25 the number of infected in the kingdom.

A Thai married couple recently returned from Japan and two Chinese tourists were the remaining new cases, according to Suwanchai Wattanayingcharoenchai of the disease control department.

Thailand is struggling to balance control of a burgeoning health crisis with a lucrative travel sector that attracts more than 10 million Chinese tourists a year.

The jump brings the total number of cases in Thailand to highest outside China, where more than 400 people have died since the outbreak emerged in Wuhan in December.

Of Thailand’s 25 cases, three were drivers who have had contact with Chinese visitors.

“One driver was picking up sick (Chinese) tourists from Hua Hin,” Suwanchai added, referring to a popular beach town three hours south of Bangkok.

A South Korean traveller who passed through Thailand also contracted the virus, but it remains unclear where she got it.

So far, eight patients have recovered fully and been discharged, while 17 remain in hospital.

Several countries have closed their borders or temporarily barred Chinese visitors, but some states closer to home have avoided similar measures during the peak travel season.

Thailand now requires visitors from China to show medical certificates stating they are healthy.

But it has not adopted a blanket travel or visa ban, and insists it has the health situation under control.

Still, after days of diplomatic back-and-forth and public pressure, Bangkok has moved ahead with an evacuation of its nationals from Wuhan.

More than 100 people were due to arrive at a naval base in a borrowed Air Asia plane late Tuesday where they await a standard 14-day quarantine.