For many business owners, staff, and customers they have had a strong feeling of Deja Vu over the past month as for the third time in a year bars, nightclubs, lounges, gogos, and all other types of entertainment venues in Pattaya have been shut out of Covid-19 precautions.
Today, May 10th, 2021, marks one month that the bars have been shut, with no sign of opening any time soon as the Thai Government continues to implement stricter and stronger restrictions across the country to attempt to control an ongoing Covid-19 outbreak that is currently seeing around 2,000 infections a day, mostly in and around Bangkok, and infections in Chonburi anywhere from around 75 to over 100 daily.
The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration is set to make decisions later this week around the current “dark red” provinces, of which Chonburi is one, and the current measures in place. These measures include an unpopular, but what officials call needed, ban on dine-in at restaurants, swimming in pools, and mingling at the beach amongst other restrictions instituted at a provincial level like closures of gyms, cinemas, playgrounds, amusement parks, and essentially anything “fun” that causes people to mingle or socialize.
The Pattaya News doesn’t speculate and takes a neutral stance in general to our approach on news, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that based on current caseloads in the province and country a loosening of these measures is unlikely at this point, as cases continue to be steadily announced, primarily driven by close contacts and private gatherings despite all major social places closed for weeks now.
It didn’t have to be this way, say many owners and staff online, pointing to what they perceive as delays on the countries vaccine program or lack of preparation in a timely fashion for the future. The Thai Government, however, has countered these claims and stated that this perception is wrong and that Thailand took a cautious approach out of respect for their citizens to see if any major side effects took place from the vaccine rollout in other countries whole maintaining border controls and attempting to keep the virus out of the country.
However, Thailand is not an island like some other successful countries that have kept the virus out, has porous land borders with several nations, and has seen many people pass over the borders and sneak through border patrols and other nets without proper Covid-19 testing and controls. This, combined with many other things, led to the current outbreak and sets Thailand in the difficult position of wrestling with their third (and really first major) outbreak in a year and a shutdown that nobody wanted of thousands of businesses, once again putting millions out of work and causing a dangerous domino effect even on businesses that can open in tourist reliant places like Pattaya, Koh Samui, Phuket, and others.
Thailand is still hoping to open up to vaccinated tourists without quarantine later this year, says the government, and Pattaya is one of several designated “economic priority” zones that will get priority on vaccines in hopes of gaining herd immunity in the resort town that in 2019 was the 19th most visited city in the world and welcomed about 10 million foreign tourists and 7 million domestic, according to the Thai Tourism Authority. Pattaya is reliant on tourism and related events for officially about 80 percent of their GDP, and unofficially it is even higher.
Pattaya officials state that their vaccine allocation and rollout program is still on track and they understand the severity of the situation that has essentially turned the majority of the city into a ghost town for the third time in a year and the sense of urgency to turn the situation around. The current plan, according to the Thai government, is to vaccinate the majority of the local population of Pattaya to allow opening the area to vaccinated tourists from foreign countries without quarantine by October.
The question, of course, remains around when businesses will be allowed to re-open and domestic tourism is allowed to resume, which was keeping many local businesses afloat until the current round of Covid-19 in early April. Indeed, compared to more remote islands and locations like Koh Samui, Pattaya has not been hit as hard, despite rows of shuttered businesses and abandoned buildings in the heart of the city on Second Road and surrounding areas. Some places, like LK Metro and Soi Buakhao, had managed to weather the recent storms fairly well on a mixture of local ex-pats and domestic tourists, especially folks coming down from Bangkok on weekends. Ex-pat and local resident-focused areas on the Dark Side and Jomtien have not been hit nearly as hard as Central Pattaya.
The closure of dine-in restaurants and the entertainment industry, which has thousands of venues still in Pattaya, as well as most “fun” tourist attractions and nearly all popular places like beaches, Koh Larn, Ramayana, and Instagrammable restaurants and locations, however, is causing, just like last year, a horrific “domino” effect on the city that Bangkok and other locations that are deep red zones don’t mostly get due to the proportion of regular residents and occupations as to tourism-related ones. Although malls and non-essential shops are allowed to open, they are a shadow of their former selves with very little foot traffic in the past few weeks. Restaurants can open for take-away, but many have chosen not to open at all and the 9:00 P.M. shut down on takeaway has heavily affected the profits of many restaurants as well. That is without even mentioning the loss of revenue at restaurants on alcohol sales, which were forbidden even before the dine-in ban for the past month as according to Public Health Officials it causes people to socialize and gather.
The closure of beaches (Officially, ordered to be open just for exercise, but in reality, this is limited to walking on the paths by the beach in Pattaya and Jomtien), Koh Larn, and most tourist attractions further caused a domino effect and once again hotels sit at almost zero occupancy across the city, the few that remain open, according to local hotel associations. All the business that rely on all these aforementioned businesses and accompanying foot traffic, like security, DJ’s, musicians, maids, repair workers, street vendors, food carts, taxi drivers, hair salons, laundry mats, market vendors, tailors, dentists, tour groups, and many, many more are also struggling regardless of being allowed to open “for business” or not.
Unlike many Western countries, where generous furlough packages and business protections were implemented during shutdowns, the general financial aid, especially to informal workers which is an estimated 60% of workers in the country and the majority of the tourism industry and related businesses, has been little to none.
Many businesses were barely hanging on before this current closure, hanging onto the hope of a rise of domestic tourism, more local events, and eventual foreign tourism returning later this year. A proper rollout of vaccines with a huge sense of urgency can still see many saved, but it must become THE top priority to do so. The question is, how long will it take, and how much longer will businesses stay closed and manage to stay afloat.
For now, the city is a sad shadow of its former self and the longer this current round of measures and restrictions lasts the harder it will be to recover. It doesn’t help that many ex-pats, as evidenced from our recent surveys and discussions, are considering leaving and returning to their own countries, many that are now well vaccinated or re-opening like the UK and USA. Many of these ex-pat residents kept Pattaya afloat over the past year, but with their departure, things could get worse before they get better. These departures are for a variety of reasons, but generally many fear months of shutdowns.
It is unknown how long this current round of restrictions will last, with officials only stating they are taking it a day at a time and focusing their attention and urgency on a vaccine rollout. Let us hope that goes well, but even in the best-case scenario, a proper rollout will likely take several months. Last year, we had a roadmap of lifting restrictions to follow that, although many felt was slow, at least gave people guidance and things to look forward to.
This year, there is no “threshold” on when restrictions will be lifted, it is unclear what metrics or measures will be made to decide when to open certain businesses or lift restrictions, and this has only caused people to be further upset. Last year, the Thai Government was clearly going for an elimination strategy with a goal of zero Covid-19 infections. That is now unrealistic, but it is unclear what the threshold or goal is to relax measures and get people back to work, other than the vaccine rollout.
Pattaya, its business owners, residents, workers, and many tourists around the world who wish to return someday, can now only wait and see what happens.