Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to announce this weekend the latest anti-virus measures in outbreak provinces such as Bangkok and Chonburi. At the moment Pattaya has experienced a closure order only on bars, clubs, karaokes, cinemas and theatres.
There are several ambiguities, such as massage parlours where “soapies” are banned whilst “traditional” health rubs are still permitted. Some bars have sought mischievously to turn themselves into restaurants by (illegally) changing their name, or by allowing group boozing for hours whilst customers take the occasional bite of a chip butty.
There are some clues to the likely new order. General Nathapon Nakpanich, chairman of the main government Covid sub-committee, suggested that restaurants might need to close earlier whilst group activities in fitness centres and snooker halls could be scrutinized. He added that the main culprits in the recent surge were entertainment venues responsible for spreading the disease. The Thai Retailers Association has already recommended malls to close at 9 pm.
To date, the Chonburi provincial governor has not restricted movement in and out, whilst Pattaya City Hall has done its best to protect domestic tourism by leaving beaches open and being tolerant about people assembling in small groups. But the local Roman Catholic Church has ended the celebration of mass until further notice.
The most severe lockdown was last April when all leisure venues and in-dine restaurants were closed. For a time it was illegal even to purchase alcohol in stores and all booze consumption outdoors was banned. Various travel restrictions were imposed – initially even crossing from Pattaya City to the so-called Dark Side required a travel pass – and inter-provincial public transport was halted. Any group activity involving more than four people was outlawed which at first closed golf courses, quizzes, swimming pools and bridge clubs.
This time, however, the Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) says that further measures need to be targeted rather than imposed will-nilly. A national lockdown is unlikely, but partial travel restrictions may be imposed, or left to the judgment of provincial governors. A ban on restaurants serving alcohol to customers is regarded as more likely than a total exclusion of in-dining at this stage.
The government is expected to encourage the police to crack down forcibly on illegal activities, especially unlawful drinking dens and amateur casinos. Bars posing as restaurants have already been warned that they are breaking the law. Also expected to be active in coming weeks is the Nai Amphur, the civilian licensing officer, who has broad discretion in supervising licensed premises and businesses of all descriptions. Officers from his Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA) frequently accompany law enforcers on midnight raids against naughty party-goers. Hotline numbers to report Covid crimes are set to be re-introduced in our informer-friendly society.