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Bangkok lets restaurants open at night after Thai PM's request

Prayuth signs COVID measures including early closure of shopping complexes

Restaurants in Bangkok will be allowed to serve customers on the premises from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Tuesday as part of government measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

BANGKOK -- The local government of Bangkok has overturned its own decision to prohibit restaurants from serving dinner, acting on request from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as he takes responsibility for weighing the economic costs of the country's fight against a rapid coronavirus resurgence.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will allow restaurants to operate normally between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. The original announcement, which was retracted after only several hours, restricted restaurants to takeout service from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. The new regulation encourages proper hygiene and strict enforcement of social distancing, and encourages takeout service at all times.

Thailand reported 745 new cases on Monday, the largest number of daily cases in a single day, bringing the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 8,439. Thailand had contained the first wave of the epidemic well. The kingdom reported virtually no local transmissions for months, but the resurgence in mid-December caught the country off guard.

A large cluster arose among migrant workers at a shrimp market in Samut Sakhon, a province adjacent to southwestern Bangkok. Since then, other related or unrelated clusters have been found across the kingdom. Currently 28 out of 76 provinces are considered highly controlled. A total of 4,108 cases have been found since the resurgence on Dec. 20, accounting 49% of total reported in Thailand since the emergence of the virus.

The city already imposed a ban on alcohol consumption at restaurants on Saturday. The ban came ahead of Prayuth's endorsement on Sunday of a series of preventive measures for the highly controlled provinces proposed by a governmental coronavirus control body, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration. Prohibiting restaurants from serving alcoholic beverages was one of the measures.

The endorsement also gave each province flexibility to ramp up or curb the proposed measures according to the epidemic situation. However, Prayuth decided to step in, responding to voices raised from the dining industry. Taneewan Kulmonkol, president of the Association of Thai Restaurants, said on Saturday the industry organization was sending an open letter to Prayuth, urging him to refrain from banning customers from dining in.

Bangkok's decision could have been a fatal blow to businesses that were badly hurt by business lockdown measures imposed by the government for a few months from March to contain the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic. According to a local report, Taneewan claimed that the new ban, if imposed, could cause about 100 billion baht ($3.3 billion) in damage to the sector and related businesses such as farming.

Taneewan told local media on Monday that closing restaurants by 7 p.m. meant patrons would have to make last orders and ask for the check by 6:30. She insisted that such a stringent measure would cause losses that the industry could hardly withstand.

Other measures Prayuth signed off on included a cut in operating hours of commercial complexes. The Thai Retailers Association and Thai Shopping Centers Association both decided to close all malls under members' ownership by 9 p.m. effective Monday.

Closure of schools, educational institutions, and entertainment venues such as pubs and bars were a part of the endorsed measures. Encouraging employees to work from home, strict health screening of interprovincial passengers, and banning high-risk activities including banquets, meetings and seminars were also advised.

A fast-spreading B117 strain of the novel coronavirus was found in Thailand for the first time in a family of four, who were all in quarantine after arriving from the U.K. on Dec. 21. The Ministry of Public Health will consider banning the entry of British visitors, according to a local report.

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