Despite the reopening of many businesses and a loosening of the national curfew, Thailand’s national state of emergency appears set to remain in effect for at least another month, as authorities are “still not confident” about the nation’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, according to a military source. PM Prayut Chan-o-cha met yesterday with military top brass to address the outbreak that continues “wreaking havoc on people from all walks of life.”
The unnamed source says military chiefs are prepared to carry out the government’s wishes if it decides to extend the Emergency Decree, and strict enforcement will continue until the pandemic subsides. The National Security Council, the National Intelligence Agency and other military agencies have been keeping a close eye on the easing of business shutdowns since Sunday, when huge numbers of people flocked to shopping malls.
According to the source, the agencies are worried about the impact on public health if the state of emergency does not continue when the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration allows more businesses and activities to reopen in June. In the current “Phase 2 easing period,” the government needs to wait at least 14 days to assess whether more relaxation of restrictions will lead to further virus outbreaks.
Without the executive decree, the source says, the CCSA will be dissolved and the government will lack the legal mechanisms, including shutdowns and the curfew, which it has used since March to contain the spread of the virus should further action become necessary. Security authorities say the enforcement of the Communicable Diseases Act alone is not adequate, as legal power will be mostly exercised by the Public Health Ministry.
This is different from the current CCSA management with the PM authorised to give a “single command” integrating the work of both security and health officials. The secretary-general of the National Security Council says he will call a meeting today between security officers and representatives from the health and business sectors on enforcement of the Emergency Decree, which is due to end on May 31.
Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration is mulling the possibility of bars and other entertainment venues being allowed to reopen on or before the current proposed date of June 15. This is when the country is scheduled to enter Phase Four of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
According to a report in The Pattaya News, the CCSA says any decision on reopening nightlife will depend on the ongoing control of the Covid-19 virus. Thailand has been reporting new cases in single digits for some time now, most of those returning citizens who are currently spending time in state quarantine. Entertainment mecca Pattaya has now gone 36 days without a new case.
Places like Pattaya and Phuket, renowned for their normally thriving nightlife, have seen bars and clubs shuttered, with countless employees laid off. One medical expert, Dr. Pramuan Ungchusak from the Department of Disease Control, caused consternation earlier this week when he suggested such venues should reopen as another types of business, and that all bars and clubs should remain closed until a vaccine for Covid-19 is found.
CCSA officials have been quick to point out that this is only one opinion and not representative of the organisation’s views as a whole. It’s believed there is also some concern that preventing nightlife venues from reopening for the foreseeable future would only result in underground venues springing up. The ensuing lack of regulations would mean a much higher risk of a second wave of the virus.
CCSA spokesman Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin insists the goal remains to allow entertainment venues to reopen when possible, subject to strict safety measures being adhered to. He says representatives from the entertainment sector meet regularly with government officials to discuss such measures, while looking at other parts of the world that have been successful when reopening bars and clubs. In South Korea, authorities were able to use tracking and tracing to quickly curtail a cluster of cases from one nightclub.
Suggestions at a May 3 meeting in Pattaya included the mandatory wearing of masks by customers, bar staff to wear face shields and gloves for handling cash and drinks, temperature checks to be carried out at every venue with hand sanitiser on all tables, a limit on the number of customers admitted, as well as a limit on drinks promotions and parties.
The CCSA says that as social distancing would be extremely difficult to implement in places such as nightclubs, the focus there will shift to health screening of customers and tracking and tracing. All businesses and customers therefore will be required to use the government’s contact tracing app.
The CCSA is expected to review the situation at the end of this week and early next week in order to make a decision. If the number of new cases remains low, and venues are prepared to follow strict hygiene guidelines, they may be allowed to reopen on or before June 15.
Thailand’s postal service is resuming international deliveries to a variety of destinations as the Covid-19 situation in many countries has improved and many local and national governments have eased lockdown measures. Thailand Post announced the resumption of the service on its Facebook page yesterday.
EMS World service will be available in 11 countries – Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Vietnam, and e-packet service will be available in Bhutan, China, South Korea, Russia and Singapore.
Courier Post service will be available to 107 destinations while Logispost World, used primarily by exporters and for large shipments, will be available to 31 destinations. Details, in English and Thai, can be found HERE.
Thailand Post, however, cautions that international service may be subject to delays and warns customers to be prepared for lateness.
Officials from Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health are working closely with the Education Ministry to facilitate the safe reopening of schools on July 1. There has been recent debate if the schools system would be ready by that date. The rollout of online learning has only been since Monday this week, with early bugs being ironed out and teachers, and students, getting used to the new online classrooms.
Thai PBS World reports that Dr Panpimon Wipulakorn, director-general of the Health Department says schools carry a higher risk of infection due to the fact that children spend most of the day together, in contrast with places like shopping malls where people are more spaced apart. While infected children will usually display only minor symptoms, or may even be asymptomatic, they can transmit the virus to others. Research shows that nearly 4% of all virus cases are in the 10-19 age group, with most of those having caught it from family members.
Dr Panpimon admits that it may be a challenge to get young children to comply with safety measures such as regular hand washing, wearing of masks, and physical distancing, adding that a handbook has been produced and sent to all schools to help with this. She asks parents not to worry unnecessarily but to teach their children how to stay safe. She also advises parents and teachers to communicate with each other regularly.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration aka City Hall plans a “sentinel surveillance approach” to aggressively test for Covid-19 in high-risk areas, and has issued new rules for pet cafés to ensure the safety of guests, animals and staff. Bangkok’s governor made the announcement yesterday.
“BMA will perform saliva tests in high-risk areas on at least 400 people per day until the end of June. The Ministry of Public Health has provided us with 15,000 test kits for this program. Under the sentinel surveillance approach, staff from BMA health offices will also randomly inspect business venues and provide suggestions in case they do not comply with proper health standards.”
The governor says the BMA board meeting will issue additional regulations for pet cafés in the greater Bangkok area to maintain sanitation standards and ensure the safety of customers, pets and staff from Covid-19 and other germs.
“Pet cafés must distinctively separate the dining area and petting area, whereas handwashing stations must be installed before entering the petting area. Customers must take off their shoes, wear a face mask or face shield as well as a gown at all times while they pet the animals. Establishments must close for cleaning and ventilation every 2 hours.”
The governor stressed that social distancing measures must also be maintained in pet cafés, and customers are advised to lower their voices in the petting area to limit the generation of saliva droplets. “Sick animals must be immediately separated from the others. All animals should be properly cleaned or bathed with proper cleaning products at least once a day. Feeding of animals by customers is prohibited.”
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, headed up by the Thai PM, is mulling knocking off another hour from the national curfew. If it goes ahead the curfew would shortened from 11:00 pm – 4:00 am daily to Midnight – 4:00 am daily. It could happen as early as June 01, along with other relaxations of restrictions. The National Security Council is being consulted on the matter of shortening the curfew.
Deputy PM Wissanu Kreangam also explained that the extension of the state of emergency is a totally different issue from the national curfew. The state of emergency is a provision in the constitution giving the Thai PM sweeping powers to act without consulting parliament. The curfew has been a tool enacted by the CCSA to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
The emergency decree has now been extended until at least the end of June, meaning that the Thai PM, as head of the CCSA, will continue to decide on matters pertaining to the control of Covid-19 and the lifting of restrictions. The Thai cabinet will rubber stamp the extension of the emergency decree this Tuesday.
The closure of schools, and the postponement of the start of the new school year until July 01, was also a separate from the state of emergency. Thailand’s schools were ordered closed by the Cabinet in early March, for the safety of students. Long distance learning, via smartphones, computers or television, which has been rolled out this week is another tool the CCSA is using as it mulls options for lifting of restrictions.
Schools that say they are ready to reopen before July 1 can do so, according to the PM, “on the condition that they have permission from health officials”, citing the case of Chulabhorn School and some international education institutions.
Thai Rath reported that times were tough for the country's sex workers with many without any money for food and shelter or for their families. They were the first hit by losing their regular line of work as the pandemic started and they are likely to be among the last that can go back to work. In addition the government has given them little assistance. The media spoke to Empower social worker Thanta Laowilawanyakun who said that the situation for many sex workers was dire.
Only a few qualified for government 5,000 THB handouts. Most had no money at all, no recourse to work, no money for food, no money to buy infant milk formula, no roofs over their heads and no money to repay debts. The situation was particularly desperate for prostitutes from neighboring countries who have no Thai ID, no home to go to and cannot cross the border to their families.
The best that many sex workers could do is those that could get 5,000 THB might take in those that couldn't and pool resources. Some had resorted to selling things online. Thanta said 100,000 people were in serious trouble. Empower had made representations to the government on their behalf but that was largely falling on deaf ears. Thailand’s sex workers are not officially recognised as part of the work force for legal reasons leaving them particularly susceptible to hardship during bad times.
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Ayutthaya is welcoming visitors again after months of empty temple grounds as another set of restrictions were lifted over the weekend, allowing temples and historical sites to open back up. Thailand’s economy is dependant on tourism and officials hope to get at least some domestic trips up and running by June.
The Ayutthaya governor says the province is now safe from the coronavirus with no new infections in the past month, the Bangkok Post reports. Altogether, there were 8 coronavirus infections in the province. 1 person died. To prevent a second wave, visitors must abide by prevention practices such as wearing a face mask, using hand sanitiser, taking temperatures and social distancing. The Buddhist temples Wat Phanan Choeng and Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon had the most tourists over the weekend.
Thailand’s economy basically runs off tourism, but the closed borders and freeze on incoming international flights (excepting chartered repatriation flights) has caused a collapse of the tourism industry. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, TAT, expects the number of foreign tourists to fall by at least 65% this year. Most industry pundits are expecting it to be a lot higher.
President of the Tourism Council of Thailand told the Post that more than 3,000 tourism-related businesses submitted loan requests adding up to 12.7 Billion THB, but only 36 cases worth 87.2 Million THB have so far been approved. For now, the country is focusing on revamping domestic travel after the pandemic, starting a campaign called “We Love Thailand.” The TCT president says reopening sites and business for domestic tourists will give tourism operators a “lifeline”.
One vendor seems to be using the pop-up “pantries of sharing” to their advantage, taking the donated grocery products and then on-selling them at a market in Rangsit, outside Bangkok. In a photo shared on Twitter, the products, like soy milk and instant noodles, have a label showing that they are from the community pantry.
The community pantries have been popping up all over Thailand to help those in need during the pandemic. The motto is give some, take some. While many people have been generous and humble, giving what they can and taking only what they need, there are reports of pantries being raided and cleaned out by more selfish people.
Some are emptied out within minutes, Chiang Rai Times says. Photos and videos of people cleaning out the pantries have floated through social media. Some of the pantries have ended up doing more harm than good but other communities are finding better ways to regulate the pantries by housing them at temples or with a roster of volunteers to encourage the correct use.
One Bangkok resident put a pantry in front of his home with a sign inviting people to take what they need. He brought the pantry inside to keep it dry while it rained, but left the sign outside, the Times reports. Eight people ended up outside his house demanding food, some repeatedly ringing the doorbell.
Opposition party Pheu Thai has condemned the government’s management of the Covid-19 crisis, saying total shutdown has had a devastating effect on the country’s economy. In a report in Nation Thailand, Paopoom Rojanasakul, vice secretary-general of the party says the hard-hitting restrictions imposed across the country have led to high unemployment, with the International Monetary Fund saying Thailand’s economy is the worst-affected in the region.
He adds that the IMF is predicting the economy here will shrink by 6.7%, saying Thailand has one of the world’s most negative GDP forecasts, despite appearing to have brought the virus under control quite quickly. “The question that arises is, if Thailand has controlled the outbreak quicker than the other others, why is its economy worse hit than the others?”
Paopoom says the decision to essentially shut down the economy in the early stages of the outbreak is what caused the damage, not simply the fact that economic performance is dependent on the global economy as a whole. Pheu Thai says the government must act now to stop businesses from going under and to save jobs, saying the government got it wrong when it allowed employers to terminate their workers’ positions.
The party says employers should receive financial incentives to encourage them to keep their staff employed. Paopoom adds that what’s required is a policy of balanced measures that keep the economy running at the same time as the virus is being brought under control. “The winner of this battle is a balanced state that can control the outbreak while also sustaining the economy until the world has a vaccine.”