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Coronavirus

Thailand nightlife to go dark over Songkran amid third COVID wave

Kingdom reports largest single-day spike since February ahead of holiday

The latest round of restrictions on nightspots in Thailand is likely to push many venues out of business permanently. (File photo by Reuters) 

BANGKOK -- The Thai government has ordered lights-out for nightlife venues in 41 of the kingdom's 77 provinces for two weeks to tame the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the country since late March.

The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, the central government's body in charge of COVID-related policy, advised local governments to close pubs, bars, karaoke bars, nightclubs, bathing facilities and other such venues from April 10 to 23.

Provincial governors will have the authority to reopen those venues, or to propose a relaxation of restrictions, when the third wave dissipates, the organization says.

Thailand reported 559 new coronavirus infections on Friday, bringing the total to 30,869. That was the largest single-day spike since Feb. 5. In late-March, clusters of infection appeared at nightlife venues in central Bangkok. The third wave has caught up with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob and Japanese Ambassador to Thailand Nashida Kazuya. At least five other cabinet members are undergoing 14-day quarantines.

The closure covers the Thai New Year, or Songkran, the country's longest holiday. Every year, Thailand celebrates the new year from April 13 to 15. The government last year added an extra holiday on April 12 to make it a longer break and stimulate domestic tourism.

Many Thais decided to take an additional holiday on April 16 this year to make it a nine-day break, including weekends. The exceptionally long break could have given a boost to nightlife venues in tourist destinations, but the latest flare-up of the virus has snuffed out that opportunity.

During the second wave, bars, nightclubs, and other nightlife venues were asked to close from early January to late February, dealing a fatal blow to some businesses. The latest restrictions are likely to push more places to close permanently.

The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration did not announce restrictions on alcohol consumption at restaurants, or ask businesses to encourage employees to work from home.

Thailand's health care industry appears more concerned about the third wave than about previous outbreaks. At least 10 private hospitals in Bangkok announced the suspension of COVID-19 screening until further notice, as they focus on treating those with symptoms. Many worried people had gone to hospitals seeking tests, increasing the odds of secondary infections and straining hospitals' capacity.

A shortage of hospital beds is becoming an issue as well. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered field hospitals to be set up in the areas with big outbreaks. Ministry of Defense spokesperson Khongcheep Tantarawanich said the army is arranging for 3,000 beds to be sent to 10 field hospitals that will be set up in Bangkok and the vicinity.

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