Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Coronavirus: Officials urge caution as Thais flock to visit other parts of country

Thais are travelling to other parts of the country in droves as the authorities gradually ease their partial lockdown measures – including inter-provincial travel restrictions – prompting reclosure warnings from officials.

Last Wednesday, which was a public holiday, thousands flocked to Bang Saen beach, a 1½-hour’s drive from the capital Bangkok. Photos of 2km-long lines of traffic leading to the beach area went viral online.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has warned that if the incident at Bang Saen recurs, phase four – the final phase of the lockdown easing expected later this month – could be postponed.

The first phase of reopening started on May 3, with restaurants, hair salons, parks, markets, open-air sports venues, pet grooming salons and nurseries starting business again. People have to wear masks and practise safe distancing, and are also required to check-in and check-out at the venues.

Among places that remain closed are schools, bars and nightclubs, sports stadiums, national parks, amusement parks, soapy massage parlours and concert and exhibition halls.

Last weekend, Thais still thronged Bang Saen and a few other reopened beaches such as Hua Hin, 140km south of the capital, but it was not the same chaotic scene as the previous week.

Fourteen checkpoints have been set up around Bang Saen beach, said Mayor Narongchai Khunpluem of Saensuk municipality, which is in charge of the beach.

He said: “Some people have not complied with the regulations. They refused to wear masks and move from crowded spots. This is worrisome. If it gets out of hand, the beach may have to be closed.”

Tourist spots within 300km of Bangkok have welcomed 50 per cent to 70 per cent of their usual visitor numbers so far, said Tourism Council of Thailand president Chairat Trirattanajarasporn.

Thailand is expected to reopen its borders to foreign tourists on July 1.

“Bangkokians are heading to the nearest beaches and floating markets. I think people just wanted to get out as we have been trapped at home for so long,” said Mr Richard Barrow, a prominent Thailand-based travel blogger.

“For myself, it was really great to feel the sea breeze on my skin once more,” added Mr Barrow, who travelled to Hua Hin last week.

“In Pattaya, there are still quite a few hotels that are closed, but I think in a couple of weeks it will get busier there too.”

In an about-turn, Paragon Cineplex in Bangkok’s shopping district reopened on June 1 and then closed for three days from Sunday to yesterday, after fans of two actors flocked to see their idols when news of their promotional event at the cinema was broadcast live on social media.

“We deeply apologise for the inappropriate situation after the filming in the cinema. We will be careful not to repeat the incident. We are still prioritising social distancing measures,” said a statement from the cinema.

Although most places of business are complying with the government’s social distancing measures, people have started to lower their guard, which could lead to another wave of infections.

“I don’t think the reopenings are too soon. I am not worried about that. What is more worrying is how some people are becoming careless. They are going out more and not wearing masks,” Dr Thanarak Plipat, deputy director of the Department of Disease Control of the Public Health Ministry, told The Straits Times.

“As long as precautionary measures are done right, even high-risk venues can reopen,” he added.

As of yesterday, there were 3,121 confirmed coronavirus cases and 58 deaths in Thailand, the first country to have reported cases outside China. No local case has been reported over the past two weeks, which saw only confirmed cases of Thais returning from overseas in state and local quarantine.

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