Thailand: Businesses Plan to Open En Masse in Defiance of Lockdowns

TOPSHOT - People eat at a street restaurant implementing social distancing with plastic dividers after the Thai government relaxed measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Bangkok's Chinatown on May 21, 2020. - Thailand continued easing restrictions related to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus on May 17 …
MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images

Business owners in Thailand declared this week that they intend to open their establishments in defiance of coronavirus lockdown orders imposed on Sunday.

Thai businessmen said they simply cannot survive another month-long lockdown with the inadequate financial support the government provided.

Bangkok and nine other provinces announced increased pandemic restrictions on Monday, including a ban on restaurant dining, restrictions on retail sales hours, a limit of 20 people on public gatherings, restricted travel between the provinces bordering Malaysia, and shutdown orders for construction work camps. 

The construction camp closings were evidently prompted by coronavirus outbreaks at crowded work camps like the one in Bangkok that reported 500 infections in May. Bangkok alone has over 575 work camps within its metropolitan area. Thai construction camps frequently house guest workers from neighboring countries. Migrant workers reportedly fled the camps before Thai officials could arrive to impose month-long quarantines on them.

The pandemic restrictions, published on Sunday morning in the Thai Royal Gazette, were pitched as something less than a lockdown, but #BangkokLockdown became a trending topic on Thailand’s Twitter within hours of the announcement. Furious Thai commenters railed at the government for shutting their livelihoods down without adequate compensation and only a single day’s notice before the restrictions went into effect.

“Do you even see us at all? What should we do to cope with this?” cried the owners of one Bangkok izakaya, a Japanese-style pub similar to an American sports bar.

“You announce the measures at 1am, what would the people who have prepared their food and stuff to sell the next day do?” asked Chayathanus Sardatta, a Thai Miss Universe pageant contestant.

“Some people invest day by day and live from hand to mouth and they would wake up in the morning to see they won’t be able to earn the bread that day,” Sardatta pointed out.

Some business owners declared they would ignore the coronavirus restrictions in acts of civil disobedience. One such campaign by Thai bartenders was colorfully christened Koo Ja Perd Mueng Ja Tam Mai Wa, which translates to “F**k the Rules, I’ll Open.” Another called on restauranteurs to set up stalls and sell their food right in front of the Parliament building.

The tourist city of Pattaya, south of Bangkok, was filled with protesters on Monday night objecting to the coronavirus restrictions. One club owner suggested Thai media should stop publishing raw coronavirus infection statistics every day because such reports contribute to an atmosphere of panic.

The new restrictions were announced just as a pilot program to reboot the tourist industry on the resort island of Phuket began. The Phuket tourist industry mournfully noted that many of the island’s businesses did not survive the previous pandemic lockdown. Thailand nationwide lost over 2 million jobs and about $50 billion in tourism revenue last year.

Thailand reported a record 57 coronavirus deaths and 5,533 new cases on Thursday, just as the first tourists arrived to take advantage of no-quarantine travel to the “sandbox” experiment on Phuket island. Thai officials made a major push to get about 70 percent of Phuket residents vaccinated before the island was reopened. Visitors are restricted from visiting the rest of Thailand after arriving in Phuket, to the dismay of hospitality industry operators in other cities.

“Phuket citizens should be proud as they are fulfilling their duty for the entire nation. We would like the Phuket sandbox to be successful so it can be applied as guidelines for our goals,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said at a press conference from the Royal Phuket City Hotel on Thursday. He promised the rest of the country might be able to reopen in October.

Travelers arriving in Phuket grumbled that the “sandbox” opening was delayed, the rules for visitors are confusing, paperwork is being processed sluggishly, and the government has done a poor job of communicating its constantly changing coronavirus regulations.

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