Thailand ends Covid-19 restrictions on bars, scraps mask mandate

Patrons gather at a bar in Phuket in October 2021. Pubs and bars can return to their normal operating hours. PHOTO: NYTIMES

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand scrapped a mask mandate and allowed bars and pubs to remain open for longer hours as the South-east Asian nation rolled back its remaining Covid-19 curbs amid a decline in new cases and a rebound in tourist arrivals.

The wearing of masks is now voluntary nationwide, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said in a statement published on Royal Gazette late Thursday (June 23), ending a mandate first imposed in June 2021.

People with chronic diseases should continue to wear masks during group activities to prevent infections, he said.

Pubs, bars, karaoke outlets and other entertainment venues can return to their normal operating hours, according to the statement.

The nightlife venues in the country's main tourist destinations were allowed to reopen earlier this month but ordered to shut at midnight.

South-east Asia's second-biggest economy has accelerated the easing of curbs on travel and businesses in recent months after new Covid cases fell to around 2,000 a day from more than 20,000 in April.

The relaxation comes as tourism-dependent economies are increasingly competing to woo back travellers.

"Through our strict health measures, the infections and deaths from Covid-19 have declined significantly, allowing the government to ease a number of measures and restrictions," Mr Prayuth said.

"We hope that further relaxations will help people and businesses" to live their lives and carry out economic activities as close to normal as possible, he said.

Before the pandemic, the overall tourism-related sector accounted for about a fifth of Thailand's economy and jobs, with nearly 40 million overseas visitors arriving in 2019, according to the central bank.

Shares of airlines and hotels gained in Bangkok trading on Friday. Asia Aviation Pcl, which controls the nation’s largest budget carrier, rose as much as 1.4 per cent while Asia Hotel Pcl jumped as much as 5.8 per cent and S Hotels & Resorts Pcl advanced 3.2 per cent.

Restaurants and eateries are allowed to serve dine-in customers alcoholic beverages in accordance with the applicable laws and communicable disease control guidelines, the Tourism Authority of Thailand said in a statement.

While group gatherings are allowed, organisers of events with more than 2,000 participants will require advance permission from local authorities, it said.  

Thailand has seen foreign tourist arrivals gather momentum in recent months with the total number of visitors jumping to more than 1.6 million so far this year, almost quadrupling from 427,869 arrivals in 2021, official data show.

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