Coronavirus: Thailand suspends all incoming passenger flights for 3 days

An empty arrivals terminal at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, on March 28, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Thailand has banned all incoming passenger flights from Saturday (April 4) to Monday, following a commotion on Friday night in which 152 Thai nationals arriving at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport refused to be put under state quarantine.

The flight ban, which does not apply to state and military aircraft, emergency landing, humanitarian, medical, and cargo flights, is aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand. The country has seen 2,067 confirmed cases and 20 deaths to date.

The ban comes after stronger measures were taken to restrict the movements of people, including a state of emergency in place since March 26 and a nationwide curfew between 10pm and 4am that began on Friday.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday also ordered a "slowdown" of incoming travellers until April 15. With the new paperwork requirement for Thais wishing to return home, it is now difficult for many to make the trips, while those who can are being put in state quarantine.

After the group kicked up a fuss at the airport on Friday, the 152 Thais were allowed to self-quarantine at home. But amid public outrage, the government has ordered them to report to the authorities by 6pm (7pm Singapore time) on Saturday, or face penalties.

Prior to the start of the nationwide night-time curfew on Friday, much fewer cars were seen on the streets during rush hour, an unusual sight. By 10pm, the streets were almost deserted, with mainly trucks transporting goods left.

At supermarkets, shoppers rushed to get supplies for the weekend before shops closed early in the evening.

Mr Punyapat Dermsapthaworn, who had several bottles of drinking water and large packs of instant coffee in his cart at a supermarket in Bangkok, said: "This should last us at least 10 days."

Thailand was largely prepared for the curfew as shops and various venues, including entertainment sites, have been gradually ordered closed in many parts of the country since mid-March. Public transport providers have also reduced their service hours to ensure commuters do not break the curfew.

Human resource executive Raksit Jirojmontree, 34, said: "Not much has changed for me since I have been working from home for a month now." He added that many in his housing estate in Nonthaburi province are doing the same.

"I wish the curfew was imposed earlier and more strictly like in China. There will definitely be economic impacts but without stronger measures, things would be worse," he added.

With the curfew and having to work from home, many people are finding new ways to occupy their time.

Mr Edwin Wiek, a 54-year-old animal welfare expert and a long-term resident of the beach town of Hua Hin, has been cooking every night for the past week. "It is fun to do and kill at least two hours a day that way."

Ms Chayatip Wiwattanapon, 30, a business planner, has taken up gardening at home. Her company has been splitting the workers into two teams which alternate working from home each week.

The curfew has forced her to change her habits. She used to work overtime and return home late. Now everyone at her office has to leave by 6.20pm.

She is also cooking some meals, with restaurants only allowed to open for takeaways and deliveries even before the curfew.

"I've been feeling down since I love eating outside. And now, I have to eat early because there won't be any more late deliveries," she said. Foodpanda only delivers until 9pm and GrabFood takes orders until 8pm.

"At first, I thought the curfew wouldn't help much, as I don't think many people go out at night anyway. But my husband presented the other side of the argument that it could deter people from partying and spreading the virus so it may work," she added.

Although many fully cooperated with the government on the first night of the curfew, up to 177 people were found by police patrols to have violated the curfew, with 42 of them charged and facing a maximum of two years in prison.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Friday warned that the six-hour curfew could be extended to eight or 10 hours per day if people continued to breach it.

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