BANGKOK, 9 April 2021: Thailand will shut entertainment venues, bars and massage parlours in 41 provinces, including Bangkok, effective today, in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19 cases on the eve week-long Songkran Festival holiday.
But the measures fall short of a national lockdown, and domestic travel continues without restrictions. Overland travel from Bangkok will spike this weekend as residents leave the city to reunite with families in the provinces for the annual water festival.
According to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) statement, late Thursday, all entertainment places in 41 provinces, including Bangkok, will be ordered to shut their doors for at least two weeks.
It preceded the daily Covid-19 briefing Friday that confirmed 559 new cases, including 10 from travellers entering the country. The overall infection tally since March last year now stands at 30,869, with 96 deaths.
Earlier in the week, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) ordered 196 entertainment establishments in Klong Toey, Wattana, and Bang Khae districts to close after reports of high Covid-19 infections from those districts. The order will expire on 19 April 2021. Most of the cases came from posh night clubs and bars in Thonglor that served the city’s so-called elite who have money to burn. Some of them flew on domestic flights to the provinces spreading the infections as far away as Phuket in the south and Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the far north.
Over 1,000 cases have been identified since last Sunday in more than 40 provinces, and the toll is rising daily, forcing health authorities to concede it could take months to stem the infections in Bangkok.
Health and security officials agreed following discussions on Thursday that a blanket closure in all provinces was not required, according to a National News Bureau report. They opted for a so-called “target therapy” in provinces with the potential to spread Covid-19.
Bangkok and adjacent provinces are listed as high risk, and residents will face 14-day quarantine when they arrive in some provinces in the Northeast and along the Gulf of Thailand coast. The decision to require quarantine of domestic travellers is at the discretion of the provincial governors.
Their prime concern was the spread of the UK variant, a more infectious version of the virus first detected in just a few cases earlier in the year but considerably more prevalent in the Thonglor bars and clubs clusters identified last week.
Privately health officials concede it could take a month to bring the latest Covid-19 wave under control in the provinces but much longer to deal with the cluster cases in Bangkok’s entertainment districts.
The 41 provinces where all entertainment venues – bars, pubs, clubs and karaoke bars – will be closed are:
- Buri Ram
- Chiang Mai
- Chiang Rai
- Chon Buri
- Khon Kaen
- Lop Buri
- Nakhon Nayok
- Nakhon Pathom
- Nakhon Ratchasima
- Nakhon Si Thammarat
- Pathum Thani
- Prachin Buri
- Prachuap Khiri Khan
- Sa Kaeo
- Samut Prakan
- Samut Sakhon
- Samut Songkram
- Suphan Buri
- Surat Thani
- Udon Thani
All 20 provinces where virus cases have been reported with links to Thonglor cluster are included in the 41-province list.
The CCSA spokesman said there would be no U-turn on the closure decision. The centre decided to make it public ahead of the signing of the order on Friday so that businesses could prepare in advance.
The meeting on Friday would also announce a work from home policy for state agencies and encourage private firms to allow their employees to also work from home.
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) is seeking Covid-19 vaccines for frontline personnel in the aviation industry as the country sets to reopen to foreign visitors.
CAAT office director, Suthipong Kongpool, said there is an urgent need for vaccinating employees of Thai-registered airlines as a confidence-building measure for both tourists and those providing the services.
He estimates about 20,000 people, including pilots, cabin attendants and ground service staff, will need vaccinations before international travel resumes.
Thailand’s vaccination programme lags behind many of its Asian neighbours and will not start in earnest until June. Up until this week, 336,809 people have been given their first jab and 54,944 the second. They are primarily frontline health workers.
In Phuket, the target calls for 70% of the 500,000 residents to be vaccinated by this July, ahead of the holiday island reopening to visitors without the need to quarantine.
Covid-19 count updated 11 April
CCSA reported 967 new cases on Sunday. The death toll stands at 97 and the total since late January 2020 is now 32,625 cases with 4,314 people hospitalised.