Thai nationals take last flight from Singapore to avoid being stranded

By Jiraporn Kukahan

SINGAPORE/BANGKOK, March 28 (Reuters) - As airlines worldwide cut flights due to the coronavirus outbreak, the last service from Singapore to Bangkok departed on Saturday with only a few dozen passengers, mostly Thai citizens desperate to get home to ride out the pandemic.

"If I die, I want to die in my country," said Chinana Dotkhruea, a 66-year-old Thai national who had been in Singapore taking care of her niece.

After Thailand enacted emergency measures on Thursday, it barred almost anyone but its own citizens from entering the country and placed strict requirements for Thais to have special papers to enter.

The Singapore Airlines flight on Saturday was the last scheduled service to Thailand. It is not known when flights will resume.

Singapore's Changi Airport was almost empty, with only one check in counter open for passengers dropping off luggage. Inside the terminal, airline staff stood around without customers to care for. Almost all passengers wore face masks and some wore gloves.

Another passenger, Ammara Viparsinon said she was afraid if she didn’t get back to Thailand she might be stranded.

Ammara, 33, said she was shocked at the ticket price of 600 Singapore dollars (about $420), which is about double what a flight would normally would cost. But said she felt there was no choice, as any other route to get into Thailand would involve long connections and layovers and be even more expensive.

“The risk is too high, so I'd rather take this last direct flight,” she said.

Thailand reported 109 new coronavirus cases and one death on Saturday, bringing the total to 1,245 infections and six deaths.

Singapore has about 740 cases of coronavirus and has been praised for a swift and rigorous process of quarantines and tracking of contacts to halt spread of the disease.

The coronavirus disease that first broke out in China has spread to most countries worldwide, infecting more than 551,800 people while nearly 24,900 have died. (Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Mike Harrison)