Speaking at a short press conference following a lunchtime meeting in Bangkok this afternoon, the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-O-cha, has stated that for now, at least, he has rejected the suggestion from The Thai Public Health Minister to close the countries tens of thousands of nightclubs, bars, live music venues, massage shops, karaoke clubs, pubs and other types of entertainment.
The Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, had stated the suggestion was one of several measures he and the Ministry of Public Health were going to bring up to the Prime Minister tomorrow, Monday, March 16th, 2020.
However, as social media has exploded, both for and against the suggestion of closing the massive nightlife industry, The Prime Minister briefly addressed reporters saying that he did not feel it was needed at this time. He did, however, say the situation will be reassessed at later dates if the situation worsens and asked for the cooperation of business owners to take proper measures to protect their customers.
One of the largest concerns about closing the industry would be tens and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people not just laid off but then returning to their homes in rural Thailand. As the Covid-19 coronavirus continues to increase in cases in Thailand, with 32 cases today alone, one of the biggest concerns is exposing the countries significant elderly population to the disease which is primarily in rural areas. The majority of workers in the nightlife industry survive paycheck to paycheck, if not day to day in many cases and would have no choice but to return home to their family for help in many cases.
It is worth noting that several venues, especially in Bangkok, have been closed both due to suspected cases and out of precaution by owners of the venues. Some of them have also been closed due to temporary downturn in business due to lack of tourists, both domestic and foreign.
Thailand’s massive nightlife industry, especially in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya employ hundreds of thousands and draw millions of visitors from around the world yearly. Pattaya in particular generates about 80 percent of it’s revenue from the tourism and nightlife industry, both domestic and foreign. A closure of the industry would severely impact not just the economy but likely send the majority back to their family homes in rural Thailand, possibly spreading the virus if they are asymptomatic.
The vast majority of the staff working in the nightlife industry in Pattaya are from Issan, the Northeast and rural part of Thailand, which is also the countries poorest and full of the largest amount of vulnerable elderly.
Other measures suggested by the Public Health Minister and other Ministry officials, such as moving Songkran later in the year entirely to avoid hundreds of thousands of people returning home in April, further travel restrictions and stopping more private events and sporting events will be discussed at the regular meetings tomorrow.
Thailand announced 32 new cases of the virus today.