Nightlife venues such as pubs will remain closed until at least 16th January to avoid a possible surge of infections during New Year.
Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), on Friday said a CCSA meeting chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha decided to defer the reopening of clubs, pubs and karaoke venues.
The CCSA originally planned to reopen these venues on 1st December, according to Dr Visanuyothin. However, it has set the new tentative reopening date to 16th January and only in some areas, depending on the COVID-19 situation, he said.
“We need time from 15th November to 15th January to prepare for the reopening,” he said.
Since the country reopened on 1st November, alcoholic drinks have been allowed to be served in restaurants and eateries in Bangkok, Krabi, Phangnga, and Phuket.
The Public Health Ministry proposed the delay after consulting with other agencies. The CCSA indicated that it would follow a direction set by the prime minister.
Dr Visanuyothin said the CCSA remains worried about the reopening of night entertainment businesses, which could lead to more infections if appropriate measures are not set in place. Inadequate ventilation and overcrowding were among its key concerns, he added.
He said that the Interior Ministry, the Public Health Ministry and business operators will set up a team to assess the situation and come up with a set of criteria for the reopening of night entertainment venues, though they may be allowed to reopen in areas at low-risk of COVID-19 infections.
Dr Visanuyothin said the meeting also decided to reduce the number of maximum and strict controlled zones, or dark-red zones, from seven to six, effective on Tuesday.
This means Chanthaburi will be removed from the list of dark-red zone provinces and will be designated as a maximum controlled zone, or red-zone province, he said.
The six provinces that remain as dark-red zones are Tak, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla, where the 11pm–3am curfew hours will remain in force until at least the end of this month, he said.
The curfew applies only in the dark-red provinces.
During the CCSA meeting, the Public Health Ministry provided an update on COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide, with some 44.8 million people receiving their first shot of a vaccine, 35.8 million getting their second shot and 2.7 million getting a booster shot, Dr Visanuyothin said.
Dr Udom Kachintorn, adviser to the CCSA, said that the delay of the reopening of night entertainment venues was intended as a precaution against a possible new surge of infections during New Year.
The Public Health Ministry and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration must come up with measures before nightlife venues can safely reopen, Dr Kachintorn said.
He noted that it is difficult to maintain physical distancing in nightlife premises, where people are in close contact with each other. Adequate ventilation in such premises is necessary to help reduce the risk of transmissions, he said.
“We have learned a lesson from the major cluster of infections linked with night entertainment venues,” Dr Udom said, referring to the cluster which centred around the upscale entertainment district of Thong Lor in April.
“The public has been asked to be patient. They will reopen for sure,” he said. “As part of preparations, the night entertainment venues must receive Safety & Health Administration (SHA) Plus certificates first.”
Dr Kachintorn also said the government is still concerned about the number of new daily cases being recorded, which is about 6,000-7,000, noting Bangkok sees about 700-800 cases per day.
Operators of nightlife venues have been asking the government to lift the alcohol ban in 17 tourism provinces and to allow pubs and karaoke clubs nationwide to reopen on 1st December.