In swift repeal, Prayut eases limits on Bangkok dining hours

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday overruled Bangkok officials’ attempt to fight the escalating Covid-19 pandemic by limiting restaurant dining hours, even as the country recorded 745 new infections – its single biggest daily increase.

“I don’t want there to be more economic impact than necessary,” he told a press yesterday afternoon, just hours after the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced that eateries would be able to sell food and drink for takeaway only from 7pm to 6am, starting today.

With the swift repeal, Bangkok’s restaurants can continue to serve dine-in patrons for two more hours, until 9pm.

While Thailand was a front runner in the fight against Covid-19 in the region last year after a bruising month-long lockdown, new infections emanating from a prawn market in Samut Sakhon province last month have put the country on the edge again.

Patients are now found in 54 provinces and much of central Thailand including Bangkok – all of which are classified as high-risk or “red” zones.

Entertainment venues are shut and schools closed nationwide.

Yet, wary of taking the wind out of a nascent economic recovery, Mr Prayut has shied away from banning domestic travel.

Instead, he has appealed for people to stay home.

“We don’t want to lock the entire country down,” he told reporters earlier yesterday. “Isn’t it better if we lock ourselves down? If we don’t want to get infected, then stay home for 14 to 15 days… It will be easier for screening.”

In any case, the authorities in individual provinces, empowered by the emergency decree in place, have started erecting entry barriers to people coming from the nation’s worst-hit zones.

Nakhon Ratchasima province, a popular weekend getaway for Bangkok residents, now requires travellers from “red” zones to report for quarantine.

Chonburi’s popular resort island of Koh Larn made all tourists leave by the end of yesterday.

Two major clusters involve migrant workers and patrons of an illegal gambling den, raising fears that those infected may remain in hiding for fear of being arrested.

Still, restaurateurs have been lobbying the government to keep their businesses open.

“Decisions on restaurants affect not just us, but also the fresh food markets and the agricultural sector,” Thai Restaurant Association president Taniwan Koonmongkon told The Straits Times.

Alcohol consumption is now forbidden in Bangkok restaurants.

BMA spokesman Pongsakorn Kwanmuang said yesterday: “Alcohol consumption may cause people to linger in restaurants. It also encourages gatherings.”

In its most recent forecast, the National Economic and Social Development Council said the Thai economy would contract 6 per cent last year. With most foreign tourists shut out, Thailand’s visitor numbers from January to November plunged by 81 per cent.

Meanwhile, Thai officials said the country will receive its first Covid-19 vaccines by next month from China’s Sinovac Biotech, reported Reuters.

According to a tweet by Mr Prayut’s office, he said Thailand has ordered two million doses from Sinovac and is expected to receive the first batch of 200,000 in one to two months.

Thailand also sealed a deal for local firm Siam Bioscience to produce a vaccine developed by British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.

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