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Thailand moves to bring back tougher COVID-19 restrictions

Relative safe haven in Southeast Asia faces new flare-up of infections

People visit shopping center in Bangkok on Dec. 31. The Thai capital has since moved to close entertainment venues.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Thailand is poised to reinstate tougher restrictions on businesses next week in response to a rise in coronavirus cases.

The measures urged by health authorities require the approval of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and could take effect as soon as Monday. Steps include closing or shortening business hours at places that pose a high risk for infection, as well as calling on people to avoid travel between provinces.

While Thailand has fared better than other big Southeast Asian economies in terms of COVID-19 infections and deaths, its economy remains depressed by the pandemic's blow to tourism.

Provincial governors will have discretion to impose the restrictions, which can last until Feb. 1. If they fail to contain the spread of the virus, stronger measures including nighttime curfews and bans on travel across provincial lines remain an option.

Bangkok went a step ahead of other regions on Friday by deciding to close entertainment venues and schools. The capital is weighing further restrictions, such as a ban on dining indoors at restaurants.

People queue to check their temperature as they visit a popular entertainment street to celebrate New Year's Eve during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bangkok on Dec.31.   © Reuters

New COVID-19 cases have been cropping up across the country since December, when a mass infection of more 1,000 people connected to a seafood market came to light.

Thailand's tough restrictions on foreign entry during the pandemic kept its COVID-19 case count down, but some blame the spread on illegal economic migrants from Myanmar.

Thailand had a cumulative total of just 7,379 COVID-19 cases as of Saturday, up 216 from the previous day, authorities report.

The government declared a state of emergency last March in response to the country's initial COVID-19 outbreak. That declaration remains in effect, allowing the prime minister to impose stronger restrictions on social and business activity again.

Critics accuse the government of abusing these powers to crack down on protests calling for the cabinet's resignation and reforms of the monarchy.

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