The much-publicized resumption of alcohol sales in the nation’s bars and clubs is clearly a preliminary move as the government remains concerned about a second wave of coronavirus infection. The latest indication from the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) is that the 1970s military law (reintroduced after the putsch of 2014) to restrict booze sales from 11.00 – 14.00 and 17.00-12.00 pm remains in force for all outlets.
The closing time of midnight for nightspots is scheduled to be confirmed officially by the prime minister next week with a start date for the re-openings on July 1. It had been hoped that tourist destinations such as Pattaya might be granted a two hour extension to serve a parched public, but this has apparently been ruled out. Pattaya mayor Sonthaya Kunplome pointed out that the very tight rules for entertainment spots would likely be relaxed only after a trial period demonstrates that the pesky virus is firmly under control. Hopefully.
What concerns the proprietors of bars and clubs, large and small, is the complexity and ambiguity in the new regulations. Staff will be able to accept the offer of a drink but not to mix with customers. Dancing, singing and mingling are all grey areas. All drinks must be served in glasses and not in bottles, towers or buckets to avoid potential contamination – although that rule may not apply to single bottles of beer served to a single customer.
But Pattaya’s nightspot owners say any pilot scheme is better than none. Samroy Saetang, a Walking Street district proprietor, said, “There will likely be a few well-publicized raids in the short term, but nightclubs have always operated under a legal cloud and have their useful contacts. You will likely see a give and take attitude by the authorities provided there isn’t a new outbreak of coronavirus.” Several agencies are likely to be involved in the monitoring including the police, the Department of Provincial Administration and the Health Department.
A special concern is the bureaucracy of registering customers on licensed premises. The CCSA is promoting the use of the Thai Chana app for checking-in, but experience in malls and other retail outlets suggests that most visitors prefer to sign manually with a phone number which isn’t checked for authenticity. “Off” Jamlong, a security officer at a popular mall, said, “The rules were enforced at first but there has been a lot of slackening by management and staff in recent weeks.”
Because foreign tourists are still banned from entering Thailand, most of the customers for the newly opened bars and clubs in Pattaya will be Thai nationals living locally or visiting at weekends. Most of them, it seems, are prepared to try out the new rules on a suck-it-and-see basis. The foreigners currently in the resort are mainly men over 60 whose leisure needs are more likely met by a quiet neighborhood bar rather than a glitzy nightclub with ear-splitting noise.
In fairness, it does appear that the CCSA may have relaxed slightly its original proposals. For example, CCSA spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, in his most recent statement, was silent on the banning darts, snooker and group activities (quizzes) in bars and clubs which had previously been outlawed. Meanwhile, everyone can enjoy a soapy massage in an outsize tub without worrying about a nosey camera taking a video of the intimate proceedings in a private room. Of course, a gin and tonic is out of the question.