In a last-hour announcement by the Chonburi provincial governor, issued on the late afternoon of December 31, Pattaya restaurants were told they can again serve dine-in meals to customers. The edict has no end date and remains in force unless and until revoked by a new order. Alcohol can be served to customers ordering and eating food, but not thereafter.
Governor Pakarathorn Thienchai’s announcement goes into considerable detail about the new regulation for restaurants wishing to offer an in-dine service. They must take customers’ temperature checks on entry, ensure hand sanitation and enforce social distancing. A record of customers’ names and phone numbers is required, preferably by the authorized Thaichana tracing app. Restaurants are not given a specific closing time, but will likely come under the 10 pm – 5 am closure order for convenience stores specified in the original provincial order.
The liberalizing restaurant order was first publicized on social media, Facebook in particular, in the early evening of New Year’s Eve where it generated reactions which ranged from huge relief to incredulity. Several Pattaya and Jomtien restaurants favoured by foreigners in particular stated that they were again open for business and would be employing staff on an ongoing basis. However, the official notice appeared too late for many restaurants and hotels offering seasonal dinners which had already been cancelled.
The governor is believed to have issued a new proclamation after being assured that the coronavirus outbreaks locally, thought to be linked to markets and illegal casinos, were being handled professionally by health workers. Another factor might have been the rise in unemployment if all restaurants and eateries had been restricted to providing take-out food only. Evidence from the last lockdown last spring was that take-out only did not provide a sustainable income for most restaurants.
Inevitably, the new edict was misunderstood by some businesses to go beyond food outlets. Although the more famous night spots such as Walking Street and Boyztown remained firmly shuttered, one or two massage parlours elsewhere remained half-open, partly shuttered but with lights showing. A small number of bars, not licensed to sell food, also tried to cash in on the ambiguity especially in the Soi Buakhao and Soi Yodsak districts and attracted one or two customers. They would be ill-advised to try again according to police sources.
But Pattaya roads were mostly very quiet and few cars seen with registration plates from outside the province. No police patrols were noted in the early evening in the main tourist areas. But this was a New Year’s Eve like no other in the past – no organized fireworks display, no crowds, no organized public celebrations and huge dark areas. Welcome to 2021.