Thailand Tightens Curbs in Virus Hotspots as Deaths Spike
(Bloomberg) -- Thailand is tightening virus containment measures, imposing a ban on gatherings of more than five people and non-essential travel, along with an overnight curfew to quell a worsening Covid-19 outbreak.
Restrictions on movements from 9pm-4am will cover the Bangkok metropolitan area and four southern provinces with the highest infections, according to a statement published in the Royal Gazette on Saturday. Limited services and operating hours for restaurants and shopping malls, closures of spas and beauty clinics as well as a ban on large gatherings will be implemented in Bangkok and surrounding districts. The measures take effect Monday until at least July 25, the statement said.
The move to tighten restrictions follows a relentless surge in infections and hospitalizations that have stretched the nation’s health care system, especially in the virus epicenter Bangkok. The government earlier resisted a lockdown to avoid hurting the economy and targeted its curbs on construction-worker camps and night-entertainment venues, where large clusters of infections have been reported.
Thailand has seen a more than 10-fold surge in infections since early April and reported 9,326 new cases on Saturday, the second highest single-day increase since the pandemic began. Authorities also announced 91 new fatalities during the past 24 hours, the most in a day.
The nation’s currency and stocks, which tumbled this week on concerns over the worsening pandemic, were little changed after the announcement of additional restrictions Friday. The baht traded at a 14-month low against the dollar, heading for a fourth weekly drop, the longest losing streak since April. The SET index of stocks rose 0.6%, trimming its losses for the week to 1.7%.
The Southeast Asian country, the first outside China to report a Covid infection, has struggled to stem the pandemic after its initial success in combating the virus last year, when it imposed a hard lockdown. Still, the curbs crippled Thailand’s all-important tourism industry and plunged the economy into its worst performance in more than two decades.
“Investors are paying close attention to three things: the outbreak situation and vaccination progress, tourism reopening, and fiscal policies,” said Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in Bangkok. “But any reopening or stimulus package can’t happen when there’s an outbreak. These restrictions are tools to contain the outbreak, and are prerequisites for tourism and fiscal stimulus.”
Government agencies are working on measures to compensate those affected by the latest curbs and will submit recommendations to the Cabinet soon, Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesman for the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration said Saturday.
Thailand’s national Covid task force, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, ordered schools in the Bangkok metropolitan area to move classes online. It also made work-from-home mandatory for government employees in non-essential services, while appealing to the private sector to do the same.
While non-essential services in shopping malls and department stores must close, drug stores, supermarkets and banks can operate within the premises until 8 p.m. Public parks may also remain open until 8 p.m.
The government will ramp up testing and vaccinations to stem the outbreak, Apisamai Srirangsan, a spokeswoman for the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said Friday, adding it targeted inoculating 1 million older people during the next two weeks. The panel also backed a plan to administer Pfizer Inc. vaccine as booster shots to healthcare workers who have already received two Sinovac Biotech Ltd. shots.
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