Health authorities in Thailand say more than half the people returning from a trip to a mass religious meeting in Indonesia have been found to be infected with the coronavirus, representing just the latest religious-related cluster of its kind within Southeast Asia as the region contends with the global pandemic.
Forty-two of the 76 all-male Muslim pilgrims who arrived on a charter flight on Monday were found to be carrying the virus when they were tested on Tuesday.
This comes as the number of cases continues to climb in Thailand more generally. Overall, Thailand on Wednesday confirmed 111 new coronavirus cases, including the 42 returnees, bringing the country’s total to 2,369, including 30 deaths.
The Muslim group had traveled to Sulawesi island in Indonesia on March 17 to attend a ceremony organized by Jamaat Tabligh, a Muslim missionary movement.
More than 8,000 pilgrims reportedly had arrived at the meeting site by the time officials canceled the event, citing the health hazard.
The March 19-22 gathering at a boarding school in a rural area in South Sulawesi province was canceled after it became clear that a similar event held three weeks earlier in Malaysia was the source of more than 600 infections.
An estimated 16,000 people attended the Malaysian event, and attendees who were infected there were found on their return to Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam in what has been the biggest religious-related, cross-country cluster reported in Southeast Asia so far.
Hundreds of people who came for the event in Sulawesi were quarantined at a hotel after it was canceled.
The Thais who returned to their homes in the country’s south were being quarantined in their own provinces, while those who tested positive were sent to hospitals. In Songkhla province, hosting the biggest number, the returnees were being kept at a dormitory inside a sport complex.
By Tassanee Vejpongsa and Edna Tarigan of The Associated Press.