BANGKOK - Thailand’s traditional new year festival Songkran has been postponed while the country’s universities and schools have been have been ordered shut amid the coronavirus outbreak that has infected 177 people and resulted in one death.
"We're not closing the country yet but there is tendency for an increasing spread (of the virus). The measures are meant to prevent the spread from Bangkok to other provinces," Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told a briefing on Tuesday (March 17).
The closures of universities and schools nationwide will take effect from Wednesday and last for two weeks.
Meanwhile sports venues in the capital and five adjacent provinces - Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakarn and Samut Sakhon - will be shut indefinitely, Mr Prayut said.
Entertainment venues such as bars, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and massage parlours in the capital and the five provinces will also be closed for two weeks.
Known for water-splashing and festivities, Songkran is held every year from April 13 to 15, and is a public holiday. Many Thais would return to their hometowns to visit their families. The substitute holiday dates will be announced later.
Even before the announcement, various parts of Thailand such as Bangkok's Khaosan Road, Chiang Mai and Pattaya had already cancelled Songkran celebrations.
“This is very bad. We have rent to pay but there will be no new income,” said the owner of Time for Massage, a massage parlour in a Bangkok mall.
Route66, a well-known nightclub in Bangkok, had already closed two days ahead of the announcement as almost all of its patrons were gone since late February.
“The closure order does not address the actual cause. The government should have imposed strict measures in screening people coming into the country since the beginning,” said the nightclub’s marketing manager.
Thailand has ordered a mandatory two-week self-quarantine for all travelers from China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Italy and Iran. Health certificate confirming no Covid-19 infection is required upon boarding planes from these places, along with health insurance for non-Thai travelers.
The country has seen big jumps in the number of cases since Sunday, with a combined 95 infections in the past three days. Many of those infected had attended a match at Bangkok Lumphini Boxing Stadium early in the month, while others caught the virus after visiting some nightclubs in downtown Bangkok.