Thailand made the decision late Wednesday night to enact a section of the Emergency Decree that enabled all current issued orders to control the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus by Provincial Governor’s to stand past their expiration date, most May 1. This included the decision made in every province to ban alcohol sales. Thailand has now issued regulations and guidelines for each province to follow to slowly ease restrictions and re-open businesses-but alcohol sales were not one of the initial measures eased.
The alcohol sales ban was originally made by provinces in early to mid April and many government officials gave an original reason that the ban was to stop people from potentially partying or celebrating the popular Songkran festival, which is the Thai New Year. Despite the holiday formally being postponed and all events cancelled, the concern was still a prominent one to many leaders and every Governor in the country ended up banning the sales of alcohol, most only to the end of Songkran.
As Songkran ended however, many provinces extended the ban to the end of May, stating that there were concerns that allowing the sales of alcohol would cause people to go out and gather, socialize and party. Opponents of allowing the sales of alcohol pointed to many public stories of private house and bar parties being busted and stories of people being arrested drunk after curfew and drinking in public spaces like parks and beaches. Those opposed supported the government’s statement that by banning alcohol sales, parties and gatherings that could potentially spread the virus would be lessened or eliminated. Opponents also said that if some provinces allowed sales of alcohol people would cross from one province to another to purchase which is against the government’s current goal of discouraging travel.
Some opponents also said that by banning the sales of alcohol it ensured the millions of Thai people out of work did not waste or spend their money on liquor, which is not essential according to them, and instead spend it only on food and essentials, stating there were concerns some people would spend their entire 5,000 baht in financial aid given to the unemployed by the Thai Government on liquor. Finally, several opponents said that since bars and entertainment venues are still banned but restaurants are going to be allowed to open shortly, there was concern that even if restaurants were “told” not to sell alcohol people would still visit establishments that were primarily bars but sold a small selection of food to drink, pointing to examples in Pattaya after bars were closed but restaurants were not in late March.
Thailand, as an entire country, reported six cases of the Covid-19 Coronavirus yesterday, five of them in the deep South, Yala, near the border to Malaysia. The number of cases of Covid-19 have been steadily dropping for weeks due to tough government rules and restrictions such as nightly curfews, the alcohol ban, bans on international flights, closures of most businesses that were not deemed essential, domestic travel discouragement and other various measures.
Supporters of ending the alcohol sales ban state on social media that people will gather and socialize, especially around food, regardless of an alcohol ban. Many stated that a long term ban would also encourage illegal sales and potentially cause a “black market” to form. Supporters also said online that arguments about people spending money on liquor were null and void as an adult had the ability to decide for themselves what to spend their money on. Finally, the most common statement among those who support lifting the ban is that banning the sales of alcohol when the vast, vast majority of people simply want to drink at home, have a quiet drink with dinner or watching a movie vs. a small minority that drew headlines by throwing parties was not fair to the majority of responsible adults. There was also some concern on the health and mental issues of ending alcohol for long term alcoholics.
The Alcohol Beverage Associations which represent most of the major alcohol companies in Thailand have stated repeatedly they are disappointed with the decision of the Thai Government to continue the ban on sales of alcohol, which will continue at least until the current scheduled end of the Emergency Decree in May. The Alcohol Beverage Associations pointed out large amounts of product and stock that would expire and be unable to be sold, causing millions of baht of loss, to both private businesses and the alcohol companies, stating that adding this loss on top of force business closures to the entertainment and beverage industry was unacceptable for business owners who were already struggling. A much discussed two day “gap” was discussed to allow the Associations to sell old stock and for drinkers to “stock up” but was rejected by the Government.
The Covid19 Center for Situation Administration, or CCSA, spokesman Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin stated yesterday at a government press conference that the risk of people gathering and socializing over alcohol was too great to risk allowing sales for the majority at this time.
The Permanent Minister of the Interior, Chatchai Promlert, told the press yesterday the alcohol ban would remain in effect until at least May 31. He stated that the ban of alcohol sales was “critical” to contain the Covid-19 virus nationwide.
Finally, Gen Somsak Rungsita, secretary-general of the National Security Council acting in his capacity as the head of the central coordination office of the CCSA, told the press today that the National Security Council would be ensuring every province in the country strictly followed the orders of not allowing the sales of alcohol and that the National Security Council agreed it was critical to stopping the spread of Covid-19. In the next several days he stated that the National Security Council would be speaking to each Provincial governor in turn to ensure they understood the importance of the alcohol sales ban.
The Government has made it clear on several occasions that the decision on the alcohol sales ban is not a matter of public opinion on the issue, in which the majority seems heavily against the decision, but rather protecting the health of the nation and potential spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus.
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