The path to re-opening Pattaya-the next steps to reopen most local businesses as Thailand slowly eases Covid-19 restrictions

Pattaya-

The Following is an editorial by The Pattaya News staff:

Thailand announced this morning a total of one new confirmed case of the Covid-19 Coronavirus in the entire country, an imported case from Malaysia of a Thai man currently in State quarantine in Narathiwat. As of this article, Pattaya has gone roughly three weeks without a single new confirmed case of the Covid-19 Coronavirus and a significant portion of the provinces in the country has either never had a case or none in roughly a month. Chonburi, the province where Pattaya is located, hit eleven days in a row without a new case this morning. The only two cases they have had were both close to Bangkok in the Phan Thong district and close contacts of a previous confirmed case.

The country now has 2,988 total cases with 2,747 people discharged with seven more people released yesterday. Only 187 people remain in hospitals for treatment of the Covid-19 Coronavirus nationwide. There have been 54 deaths since the start of the outbreak but none in about a week now.

Thailand has increased its proactive testing, especially in hot zones such as the Deep South in Songkhla and Yala, Phuket and Pattaya. Pattaya had 2026 proactive tests conducted last month in the area (not including regular testing and testing of people under investigation) according to Pattaya City Mayor Sonthaya Khunpluem and only four positive cases were found, which were all connected to each other from a single Thai man who had recently visited Phuket. The last proactive case found was April 19 and were Banglamung cases. This lends credence to the Pattaya City Hall statement that, at least in Pattaya, there is no widespread infection of the Covid-19 Coronavirus and little-to-no sign of potentially hidden asymptomatic cases.

As a result, Pattaya was labeled a white zone as of yesterday, which means it is no longer a “hot” zone or active infection area. Pattaya was previously labeled a red zone due to high numbers of cases in Chonburi and Banglamung, although the majority were imported cases from other parts of the country or foreign tourists from overseas. Restrictions are starting to ease, checkpoints blocking non Pattaya residents from entering the city have been removed and some businesses, like small restaurants, have been given permission to open.

Indeed, many of the restrictions in Pattaya have been looser than the rest of the nation already, with salons and electronic stores legally open for weeks.

So, many are asking, what’s next? Most of the city remains out of work with food charity lines stretching into the thousands in some areas. Pattaya is known worldwide for its tourism and nightlife industry and has one of the largest tourism related economies in the world-with most City Hall statements pointing at the total amount of revenue attributed to tourism in Pattaya as around 80%.

Pattaya’s famous- or infamous, depending on your perspective-nightlife scene draws millions yearly from all around the world to experience the bars, clubs, karaokes, lounges and other nightlife attractions. All of these are currently force closed due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus. Pattaya also has a thriving Thai nightlife scene that many regular tourists don’t know about, with large Thai nightclubs like Differ and Bone attracting hundreds of local Thai residents and domestic Thai tourists every night of the week. Pattaya is often called the city that never sleeps…but it has now been sleeping since March 18, when all entertainment venues were ordered closed by the Chonburi Governor.

The Pattaya News has compiled information from both local and National government sources to begin to give our readers a roadmap of what “likely” to expect over the next few weeks. It is important to note that depending on not just the local situation but also the national situation with Covid-19 that this “roadmap” of what the future looks like could dramatically change, especially if cases increase. However, as of press time, this is what the current situation looks like for Pattaya.

Pattaya City leaders have begun to hold regular meetings with prominent local entertainment and nightlife owners to begin to ask the question “How do we re-open the Nightlife industry, Pattaya’s biggest employer and biggest attraction worldwide, safely?” You can read more about that HERE, as we will not be going into that in depth in this article. These suggestions are being brought to a National Committee who will evaluate them.

The Covid-19 Coronavirus Situation Administration, or CCSA, has stated from their spokesman Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin that the current plan is to slowly each restrictions in four separate phases over two week periods and to evaluate the results of easing those restrictions every fourteen days.

Thailand started the first period of easing on Sunday, May 3, which allowed several venues to open, such as salons, small restaurants, golf courses and other areas that are primarily easy to socially distance in. All venues opened under strict new rules to promote physical distancing and hygiene. You can read more about that HERE.

Meanwhile, Provincial Governors have been instructed by the Ministry of the Interior to be consistent with the Government Guidelines at this time. They can strengthen the guidelines, but they cannot loosen them. The reasoning for this is to discourage travel or give anyone a reason to want to leave their province to go to another. A good example of this is beaches, which remain closed in Pattaya due to concern from authorities that Bangkok residents, which has still had a number of cases found in recent weeks, may be tempted to drive to Chonburi to come to the beach.

A list of what is currently open and closed can be found here.

At the current time, despite the low numbers recorded by the CCSA, the Government is taking extreme caution and being conservative, looking at cautious tales from other countries like Singapore and Japan who appear to have eased their restrictions too quickly. However, at the same time, the CCSA has also stated they are looking at South Korea, most of China, Vietnam, Taiwan and other countries who are essentially back to a regular operating environment, with everything open, including nightlife. They are gathering ideas and preparing to implement them, knowing that Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok are world famous for tourism and the nightlife and Tourist industry is essential in these areas. In almost every case of those countries who have re-opened nightlife one item remains the same-the ability to contract trace easily.

Thailand has made no secret that they want to reach-and sustain-zero locally spread cases of Covid-19, as impractical as that might seem to some observers. This means that the questions of how do you bring tourists back safely without requiring everyone to do a fourteen day quarantine becomes very important. Of course, it is possible that countries that also appear to be Covid-free may be the first places to open their borders for travel with the potential of one of the first countries to return to Thailand being China, who, officially anyways based on their statements only, is largely now Covid-19 free.

Pattaya, as most agree, won’t survive on expats and domestic tourism alone and the answer is not simply to reopen everything. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha admitted as much today when he said the government needs to provide support for people for at least six to nine months, regardless of the number of cases or situation. The Thai Tourism Authority is launching programs to increase domestic tourism and talking about some countries (Likely China) returning as early as in the late summer or early fall. That is possible, but also isn’t the complete answer. Before the Covid-19 Coronavirus, Pattaya was already changing quickly with large amounts of Indian, Chinese and Russian tourists-most who were not interested in the bar industry. Although China appears to have the Covid-19 Coronavirus under control according to their statements anyways, Russia and India do not at this time.

Regardless, those are all questions for a further date as the most immediate question most business owners are asking in Pattaya, from malls to theme parks to bars is-when can I at least have the choice to open my business, if I choose?

Like restaurants, many may choose to wait to open and domestic travel is still strongly discouraged and will be for at least several weeks but most business owners The Pattaya News heard speak at the recent meeting at Hollywood Disco mentioned above simply wanted the option to open. Some, like Thai bars geared for middle and upper class Thai’s, are not dependent on tourists and would probably be steady as soon as they opened. Some local bar owners, especially ones in the Soi Buakhao area, have told The Pattaya News the majority of their business is expats normally during this time of year and the lack of International tourists also wouldn’t affect them, they simply want the opportunity to open their bars. However, a business purely dependent on tourists, like many of the foreign nightclubs and gogos, would likely need to adjust or would struggle open or closed.

At this point, the next phase in the four phase period mentioned above would be around May 16/17. If cases of the Covid-19 Coronavirus remain low, further easing of restrictions would take place according to the CCSA. They have not officially revealed what businesses would be in each phase, despite much speculation and color coded charts on other media, and have stated several times they would not do so as things could change quickly. There is, however, one exception-the final Phase, which is estimated to be in mid June, if the situation is still positive, would be items like events, concerts, large sports matches, etc. Bars had originally been named in this category but in recent discussions on easing restrictions were not named, which has some to lead they could be earlier.

Pattaya City Hall and Chonburi Officials made it clear that they have to work with National guidelines and one of the most important things to the CCSA is to discourage domestic travel at this time, thus attractions like beaches, the nightlife industry, theme parks, national parks and other items that attract domestic tourism would not open until the CCSA was certain domestic spread was under control, especially in Bangkok. Therefore, any sort of attractions such as this would likely not open until, at the earliest, early June-or roughly three weeks away still, regardless of number of cases in the Pattaya area.

It is futile to speculate what may be in each Phase at this point, however the fact that both local and National officials are now genuinely brainstorming and involving local business owners is a positive sign. The fact that other countries in Asia have re-opened portions of their nightlife and entertainment industry is also a positive, including nearby countries like Cambodia and Vietnam.

It’s going to be a long, and difficult, path ahead for many. Nobody disputes that. However, the path has begun and hopefully if people work together to physically distance and help stomp out the potential of the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus for several weeks more, we may…”just may“…see Thailand open internally and domestically, as a start, nearly completely by the end of June. It is clear with the current economic situation in Thailand that the closures and lockdowns, with millions and millions out of work, are not sustainable for much longer for much of the country. Indeed, many of the local charity foundations who have been feeding thousands are running low on funds themselves as the lines get only longer, as some media calls out increasing suicide and domestic violence rates.

The Pattaya News will provide further updates on all measures being taken by the CCSA in terms of easing restrictions as they are released.

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