Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 3 News List

SARS epidemic sparks exodus of Thai laborers

AP , BANGKOK

Thai workers are fleeing Taiwan amid rising fears over the SARS virus, with about 200 Thais returning home daily, a newspaper reported yesterday.

The Labor Ministry is exploring ways of helping the roughly 140,000 Thai laborers in Taiwan, some of whom have had to pay fines for breaking employment contracts, the Bangkok Post reported, quoting officials.

A total of 6,663 Thais have returned from Taiwan since mid-April, the report said.

Thailand's prevention measures include fever checks at airports for passengers -- Thais and tourists alike -- arriving from SARS-affected places.

Additionally, Thais arriving from those places are asked to stay at home for 10 days after their arrival, though it has been unclear how this requirement is enforced.

No extra precautions have been introduced for the workers returning from Taiwan, Dr. Charal Trinvuthipong, director general of the Department of Communicable Disease Control, told reporters.

Labor Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Premsak Siayura, house labor committee chairman, has urged the Labor Ministry to assist Thai workers wishing to return home due to the disease, according to the Post.

``They should not be made to pay fines or have their incomes deducted if they do not wish to complete their contracts, because the SARS situation is more severe than war,'' he was quoted as saying.

A former employee at a Taiwanese steel factory, Sudjai Duangpakdila, who paid a fine to return to Thailand, was quoted as saying that he and his friends ``were scared to death'' about catching the illness.

Thailand has so far reported eight cases of SARS, two of whom died.

No new cases have been reported since April 23.

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