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Joint US military drills get thumbs down from Thais amid COVID-19 fears

BANGKOK: This month’s joint US-Thai military exercises in Thailand have drawn criticism from Thais on social media after authorities announced that dozens of visiting American troops would be undergoing their mandatory 14-day quarantine in Bangkok hotels.

About 106 American soldiers will join three separate exercises from Aug 18 to 30 in three provinces, and would be subjected to the same requirements as anyone entering the country, said the head of the Thai Army’s anti-coronavirus unit, Nattapon Srisawat.

Thailand has gone over two months without a local transmission of COVID-19 and has kept infections to just over 3,300.

It has closed borders and airspace to tourists to keep the virus out and allows entry only to Thai repatriates or foreigners with special permission. All must undergo quarantine.

READ: Commentary: Thailand has done well in taming the coronavirus pandemic so what’s with these protests?

A popular Thai Facebook page attracted 25,000 likes when it questioned the necessity of holding joint exercises between the two historic allies amid a global health crisis.

“Is it really necessary to take in foreign soldiers now? If it does not impact the relationship just postpone it,” it said.

“Even citizens who need to travel have delayed their plans, why can’t the military training be postponed?”

More than 70 American soldiers arrived from the US Pacific territory of Guam on Monday and would be staying in alternative state quarantine, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the country’s coronavirus task force, referring to the mandatory quarantine that foreigners must undergo at their own expense.

More troops were due to arrive on Tuesday from Japan.

Asked about the criticism of the drills, Nattapon said that participants will have undergone two tests and would not be exposed to the public during the exercises.

“These soldiers will not be able to leave the barracks,” he added.

The exercises come as Thailand’s military suspended sending forces abroad after nine Thai personnel tested positive for the coronavirus upon return from training in Hawaii.

The US embassy in Bangkok did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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