(Adding comments from Chinese tourists paragraphs 11-13)
By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um
BANGKOK, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Thai health officials said on Wednesday they will start screening tourist sector workers for coronavirus as part of measures to control the spread of the new disease that has killed 132 people in China.
Thailand has seen 14 cases of coronavirus, more than any country outside China, which has confirmed nearly 6,000 cases. All but one of them have been among Chinese visiting Thailand, a popular tourist destination.
“We have to monitor Thais in professions that come in contact with foreign tourists, particularly the Chinese,” said Tanarak Pipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control.
“This includes professions like guides and tour leaders that bring Chinese travellers to Thailand. If they exhibit symptoms like fever, cough or sore throat then we have to scan for coronavirus.”
Tens of thousands of Chinese tourists visited Thailand in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year on Jan. 25.
There have so far been no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission inside Thailand, Tanarak said.
National carrier Thai Airways Pcl said on Tuesday it was stepping up protective measures such as disinfecting the passenger cabins and cockpits of flights returning from Chinese cities and other high-risk destinations.
Thailand recorded 25,029 arrivals at five airports from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and other affected Chinese cities, between Jan. 3 and Jan. 27, the health ministry said.
Most of those Chinese visitors are believed to have returned home, but there are no official numbers on how many may have been stranded when China’s government banned most commercial flights to Wuhan last week.
“Most of those people from Wuhan have gone back and we estimate that hundreds remain,” Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents told Reuters.
Many Chinese tourists in Bangkok continue on with their holiday activities, such as praying at the famous Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok, while taking some extra precautions.
“For me personally, I think I will be fine, I’m not so worried about it because everybody wearing masks,” said David Zhang, a tourist from Shanghai, who was wearing a surgical mask.
“For us Chinese citizens, we won’t gather for meals, and won’t really go for gatherings,” said Gong Dan Dan, a Chinese tourist from Zhejiang.
Tourism has been hit hard by China’s ban on all group tours as China is Thailand’s biggest source of visitors, accounting for 28 percent of 39.8 million arrivals last year.
Reduced travel from China could result in 50 billion baht ($1.52 billion) of lost tourism revenue, the tourism ministry estimates. (Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alex Richardson)