Thailand Extends State of Emergency Ahead of Vaccine Rollout

Thailand extended a state of emergency until the end of March and ordered easing of some Covid-19 containment measures as authorities prepared to start a vaccination drive as early as next week.

The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, approved a proposal for the 10th extension of the nationwide state of emergency to contain the outbreak, according to Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, a member of the panel. The cabinet is expected to back the extension -- in place since March last year -- at a meeting on Tuesday.

The committee also agreed to lift a ban on restaurants serving alcohol in several provinces including capital Bangkok after a new wave of infections that began mid-December waned, Piyasakol said. Bars and nightclubs, which remained closed in some provinces in the wake of the fresh outbreak, can now reopen and serve liquor to patrons until 11 p.m., he said.

Thailand Extends State of Emergency Ahead of Vaccine Rollout

Thailand has seen new cases drop below 100 in recent days after imposing curbs on businesses and travel in the worst-affected regions early this year. That prompted the Covid-19 panel to reassign infection risk rankings, with Bangkok now listed as second-tier. Only Samut Sakhon, where the current wave of infections started, remains in the highest risk category with continued containment measures.

The Southeast Asian nation is also set to receive the first lot of vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. this week that will allow the government kickstart an inoculation program among healthcare and front-line workers. Prayuth, the 66-year-old premier, on Monday offered to be among the first to take the shot to boost public confidence even though Health Ministry hasn’t recommended Sinovac jabs for those older than 60 years.

The extension of emergency rules allow the government to enforce mandatory quarantines and streamline disease-control plans without multiple approvals from various agencies. While Thailand has eased curbs on return of foreign tourists, a mandatory two-week quarantine and suspension of scheduled commercial flights have kept most visitors away from the tourism-reliant nation.

Pro-democracy groups have intensified their protests in recent weeks calling for the government’s resignation, with more gatherings planned in the coming days. The government has urged people to avoid large public gatherings to minimize the risks of infections as new cases are still being detected in several regions over the past week, including Bangkok’s neighboring provinces of Pathum Thani and Samut Sakhon.

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