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Thailand's restaurants and hotels cleared to serve alcohol

Lack of inbound tourists creates large barrier to bringing back economic growth

Thailand gives the go-ahead for restaurants and hotels to start serving alcohol again, beginning June 15, when a late-night curfew will also be lifted. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

BANGKOK -- Diners in Thailand will again be able to enjoy traditional grilled chicken and papaya salad with a glass of cold beer at eateries as the government has decided to allow the serving of alcoholic beverages beginning Monday.

Restrictions on alcohol were part of the kingdom's anti-coronavirus measures that are now all but lifted as the outbreak has been brought under control.

An 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. curfew will also be scrapped from Monday.

The restored freedoms are part of a fourth round of easing proposed by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration. The government gave its consent to the proposal on Friday, according to the Royal Gazette.

The round also includes the reopening of international and tutorial schools, seminars and training programs, though these businesses will be required to exercise proper hygiene. In addition, day care centers for children and the elderly can resume operations.

Amusement parks, playgrounds, convention centers and exhibition halls will also be allowed to reopen on Monday. So will health-oriented spas, saunas, outdoor stadiums, martial arts schools, gymnasiums and exercise facilities.

This is the final round of the government's four-phase plan to bring the economy back online, and the next two weeks will be an assessment period during which authorities will watch out for signs of any renewed outbreak.

Thailand confirmed 27 new COVID-19 cases during the seven days through Friday. All of the infections were discovered among arrivals during mandatory 14-day state quarantine procedures for those entering the country from abroad.

No local transmissions have been reported for 18 days now.

Restrictions were first imposed in March in an effort to contain local transmissions of the novel coronavirus.

The first easing phase began on May 3, when restaurants were allowed to accept dine-in customers, though all diners had to sit apart to maintain social distancing requirements and refrain from drinking alcohol.

Round 2 came on May 17, when shopping malls reopened, though shoppers have had to log in so as to enable contact tracing.

On June 1, massage salons were allowed to reopen as long as they close every two hours for cleaning.

Although the curfew is also being lifted, the country's state of emergency will remain in place until the end of June.

While all four rounds of the phase-in have been approved, some businesses and activities that gave rise to clusters in the early days of Thailand's outbreak remain closed and banned as the government remains cautious.

These businesses include pubs, bars and nightclubs. In March, a pub in Bangkok that attracted Thais and tourists from Hong Kong gave rise to one of Thailand's first clusters.

Professional sports will get the go-ahead but spectators will not. Many fans at a Thai kickboxing event at the army-owned Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in March spread the virus to one another as they screamed and cheered.

According to the cabinet's advisory National Security Council, 95% of businesses and activities will be unrestricted on Monday.

But the Thai economy will still be missing its biggest engine, foreign tourists. Tourism accounts for broadly 20% of the kingdom's gross domestic product. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has a landing ban in place for all incoming international flights, excluding repatriation flights for Thais, until the end of June.

Thailand plans to strike up bilateral deals with Asia-Pacific nations and territories to resume flows of first business travelers and eventually tourists. Such agreements would open so-called "travel bubbles." Destinations within these bubbles would allow travelers to forego 14-day quarantines at each end. "Once the situation improves," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on June 2, "we'll allow travel between countries that we have an agreement with."

Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesperson of the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, said Friday that the kingdom is considering travel bubbles with China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, and some countries in the Middle East. Further talks with some of these countries are expected at an online Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on June 26.

The Thai government is also rolling out a series of measures to help Thais get back on their feet. It has introduced cash handouts for informal workers to support consumption. It also seeks to dole out travel coupons to Thais to boost domestic tourism.

These steps will not be enough to pull the Thai economy out of a contraction, however. Earlier this month, Kasikorn Research Center lowered its economic growth projection from a 5% contraction to 6% negative growth.

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