Earlier this week, the Thai Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) made the decision to shut dine-in at restaurants in six areas, including Chonburi (Pattaya) and Bangkok, labeling these areas “deep red” zones which have had an average of over a hundred infections daily over the past several weeks.
According to CCSA spokesperson Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin, the decision was “difficult” as they are aware of how many people’s lives are affected and that many restaurants would likely choose to close entirely who don’t normally depend on delivery or take-away. Dr. Taweesin also stated to the Thai press that he sympathized with those working in hospitality and understood their pain. There have not been any announcements for financial aid for those affected by the Ministry of Finance and as the restaurants were not entirely closed most are not eligible for social security benefits. A vast majority of workers in the restaurant industry are “informal” staff who don’t have social security and would not be eligible anyways, The Pattaya News notes. Additionally, since the restaurants have not been “force closed” and can do take-away, they are in nearly all cases not eligible for any financial support.
Although the closures for dine-in only affect six provinces/areas, Bangkok, Chonburi, and Chiang Mai, in particular, have tens of thousands of restaurants and contribute a significant amount to the total restaurants in the country. Restaurants have already been hit by many measures hurting their bottom lines, such as no foreign tourists for the past year without quarantine, people not traveling domestically due to fear of Covid-19, a ban on alcohol sales in restaurants, and bans on how late they can serve. In fact, the recent orders in dark red zones also ban takeaway after 9:00 P.M., a decision widely booed by prominent Thai Restaurant Associations who pointed out that many restaurants depend on late-night deliveries for their revenue.
The CCSA has stated that the ban on takeaway from 9:00 PM overnight is to lessen the amount of traffic on the roads and encourage people to stay home without implementing an overall curfew. It is also, according to the CCSA, to stop people from ordering food for private house parties or gatherings, which are banned currently due to the Emergency Decree to control the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Multiple Thai Restaurant Associations (referred to as TRA from this point on) have spoken over the past day about their opposition to the plans, claiming their members have enforced many social distancing and hygiene measures and shutting down restaurants from dine-in could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and if prolonged cause many more restaurants to close permanently. They specifically used the example of hard-hit Pattaya which is dependent on foreign and domestic tourists and not local residents.
The CCSA, meanwhile, has countered the opposition by pointing to numerous Covid-19 timelines and clusters of infections that have come from restaurants in the dark-red zones, stating that they had no choice but to limit points of contact and shut dine-in. The Pattaya News notes that the majority of the restaurants appearing on timelines, if not nearly all, are primarily “Thai Style” BBQ restaurants or buffet-style places, and not other types of restaurants. The TRA’s have noticed this as well and suggested perhaps rules and guidelines for these venues specifically that normally attract large groups of people sharing food. However, for now, the CCSA has stood its ground.
This comes as the CCSA faces increased pressure from multiple business sectors, including the hotel, tourism, entertainment, massage, and fitness sectors which have all been heavily affected by the current round of Covid-19. For now, dine-in remains closed, hotels remain empty in tourist provinces with an average of 3% occupancy, entertainment venues, gyms, and massage shops are closed and a growing number of people are facing financial heartbreak and poverty. The CCSA has stated that the Thai Government, specifically the Center for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) is currently “considering options” for financial aid, while people wait.