Chinese citizens living in Thailand started getting Covid-19 jabs on Thursday as part of Beijing’s global campaign to inoculate its nationals living and working abroad.
The vaccines were provided by China to be administered to its nationals as Thailand slowly rolls out shots for its own citizens to contain a coronavirus surge that has hit tens of thousands in the past two months, reports the AP.
Chinese nationals are the most numerous foreigners living in Thailand who are not from neighbouring countries.
It is unclear how many of the 150,000 Chinese citizens living in Thailand will be inoculated under Beijing’s “Spring Sprouts” initiative in this round of inoculations.
China has supplied millions of doses to Thailand but the Thai government has said it will vaccinate Thais before inoculating most foreigners, regardless of risk factors or age.
Just over 2% of Thailand’s 70 million people have received a first vaccine dose and about 1% have received a second. The government says it hopes to inoculate 70% of ithe population by the end of the year but has been criticised for taking too long to start vaccinating.
Thailand largely contained Covid-19 cases last year by closing its borders, enforcing mandatory quarantines and aggressively tracing contacts of those infected.
The measures devastated its economically vital tourism industry but kept the pandemic at bay until early April when fresh outbreaks hit the country.
Bangkok has been hit especially hard, with thousands of cases in slums, and camps housing construction workers.
A partial lockdown in recent weeks has made some headway in containing the outbreaks.
Natapanu Nopakun, a spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry, said on Thursday that there are around 1.3 million legal migrant workers in Bangkok and its vicinity and more than one million illegal ones across the country. The labour ministry intends to inoculate them as well as Thais because their high mobility is a risk factor in spreading infections.
Another 200,000 foreigners, mostly from Australia, Japan, Europe, and the US are mostly professionals and retirees. For now, they can only obtain Covid-19 shots by travelling out of Thailand to their home countries and would face lengthy, expensive quarantines on their return.
A group representing Americans living in Thailand sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week asking the government to supply some of the millions of unused vaccine doses available in the US to inoculate American citizens in Thailand.