Coronavirus: Bangkok orders shop closures from midnight to 5am

Bangkok's Asiatique night market is almost empty on March 2, 2020.
Bangkok's Asiatique night market is almost empty on March 2, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - All Bangkok’s shops, including convenience stores and supermarkets, will have to close from midnight to 5am, while all parks have to be shut effective Thursday (April 2) until at least April 30, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced on Wednesday (April 1).

“Please understand that we need to reduce the gathering of people as much as possible. There will be regular assessments of all the closed venues. If scientific and medical evidence indicates that they are safe to reopen, we will consider it,” said BMA spokesman Pongsakorn Kwanmuang.

The order is the latest in the series of gradual closures of various venues and restrictions in Bangkok and most parts of Thailand, following the March 26 declaration of a state of emergency, which gives the government absolute power in times of crisis.

Bangkok has already closed its schools, universities, malls, dine-in restaurants, sports venues, spas, gyms, salons, cinemas, theatres, and many other places since mid-March. The capital has seen a sharp spike in infection cases of the coronavirus, which has now spread to another 60 of the country’s 77 provinces. www.straitstimes.com/coronavirus

Most provinces with confirmed cases have ordered similar closures and restrictions, but at their own pace with their own specifications - ranging from Buddha amulet shops, to cattle markets, shrimp fishing ponds, and weight loss clinics - signalling a clear decentralisation in the Thai government’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Thailand has 1,771 Covid-19 cases and 12 deaths as of Wednesday.

Tourist hotspot Phuket island was the first province of the current four provinces to have issued a soft indefinite nighttime curfew between 8pm to 3am since Saturday (March 28). Only “asking for cooperation,” there has yet to be a penalty for breaking the curfew. But an order issued under the emergency decree has banned all kinds of gathering, with a maximum imprisonment of two years.

Apart from closing its beaches, zoos and walking streets, the southern island has also sealed off its land and sea access, with a plan to close its airport from April 10.

The nighttime curfews and closures are meant to deter people from partying, which could increase the spread of the virus, officials said. 

Even without a confirmed infection, provinces like Sakon Nakhon in the northeast have banned the sale of alcohol from Tuesday (March 31) until at least mid-April.

“People tend to gather when they drink. Many youngsters like to hang out just outside convenience stores and drink,” said Mr Pipat Ekpapan , governor of Phitsanulok province in the north, which is also banning alcohol sales for the entire April, with a maximum sentence of one year.

For Nonthaburi province which is adjacent to Bangkok and has, at 104, the highest number of cases after the capital which has 850 cases, a curfew from 11pm to 5am has been imposed indefinitely since Tuesday, in addition to some closures. But a complete lockdown is out of the question, considering that most of its residents work in Bangkok.

 
 
 

“There has yet to be a need for a complete lockdown. I believe the situation is still under control,” said Nonthaburi governor Sujin Chaichumsak, citing various measures implemented in the province such as temperature checkpoints on the roads with health officials ready to treat those found to have symptoms.

Responding to the concern people may not take the recommended curfew seriously, Mr Sujin said: “Now there’s hardly anyone leaving their homes anyway. It is not a concern at all.”

The three Muslim-majority deep south provinces bordering Malaysia - Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat - have imposed a lockdown since Sunday, with no travel in and out of each province permitted. This came after infections of the locals joining a big religious gathering at a mosque just outside Kuala Lumpur at the end of February.

“I’m surprised that this government is decentralised in its management. It may be a good thing as each area of Thailand has geographical differences. It is too soon to tell now if all the measures have been effective,” said epidemiologist Dr Weerasak Jongsuwiwanwong.