Thailand to ease nightlife lockdown

BANGKOK • Thailand’s nightlife will restart with some restrictions this week, the kingdom announced yesterday, part of a return to normalcy as it prepares to welcome business travellers and medical tourists after a ban on foreign entry.

So far, Thailand has 3,169 cases and 58 deaths (at press time) from the coronavirus — a low toll considering the kingdom in mid-January became the first country outside China to register a case.

But the country’s tourism-reliant economy has been hit hard by the border closures, while a halt to its infamous nightlife has left the king- dom’s informal workers — in bars, massage parlours and karaoke lounges — adrift.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said the “most at-risk businesses” will be allowed to reopen tomorrow, as there has been no local transmission of the virus for more than a month.

“The most important thing we care about is the people who have no income for their families,” he said. “Secondly, we are confident that our health system is ready to handle (the situation).”

Beginning tomorrow, bars, clubs and karaoke lounges can reopen, though they must adhere to a midnight closing time and have social-distancing measures, said Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

Massage parlours and teahouses — which sometimes act as fronts for brothels — will also have to register customers using the government’s tracking app.

“Staff must be tested for Covid-19 from time to time and there should be no sex trade,” said Dr Taweesin.

Thailand will also relax entry restrictions on foreigners with work permits or with Thai spouses and families, and people who wish to enter the kingdom for medical services.

Business travellers from Japan, South Korea, Singapore and China, including Hong Kong, will also be allowed in, provided they pay for quarantine in hotels.

The countries and cities are “important to our economy, they control the spread of the pandemic well, and they have the same health and efficiency standards”, said Dr Taweesin.

Tourists will still be barred, although authorities floated the idea of “travel bubbles” earlier this month.

Thailand’s economy has flatlined since the virus struck and annual growth is forecast to slump by between 5% and 7%. — AFP