The government has rejected the idea of a total lockdown in Bangkok out of concern for the potential economic impact that may arise from such a move.
It has decided to close off infectious and high-risk areas including construction worker camps in the Greater Bangkok area and four southern border provinces for 30 days starting on Monday.
The government will also impose travel restrictions on people from high-risk areas to prevent virus transmission.
A proposal for the measures was presented by the Department of Disease Control (DDC) during a meeting with the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), which is chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
The decision came despite some senior doctors suggesting that the government impose a lockdown in the capital for seven days due to a lack of hospital beds and health personnel in Bangkok given soaring new COVID-19 cases.
Gen Chan-o-cha said the DDC proposal was discussed by medical experts with all aspects of the COVID-19 situation being taken into account.
“We will not use the term ‘complete lockdown’, but specific measures must temporarily be taken,” he said during a press conference after the meeting. “Lockdown sounds too dramatic.”
“Instead, we will speak of businesses, areas or clusters that need special attention,” Gen Chan-o-cha said. “We have to come up with proper measures that suit them.”
Under the measures to be imposed in Bangkok, its surrounding provinces and in Pattani, Yala, Songkhla and Narathiwat, construction worker camps will be closed for a month, and the Labour Ministry will compensate jobless workers during the period, he said.
This means construction projects will also have to be temporarily halted and construction contracts will be allowed to be extended, the prime minister said.
It has been estimated that there are over 400 construction worker camps in Bangkok alone.
The CCSA will release the details of the measures over the weekend and they will take effect next week, Gen Chan-o-cha said.
As for a measure to increase the number of beds at Bangkok hospitals, Gen Chan-o-cha said the Public Health Ministry was instructed to arrange 100 additional beds for COVID-19 patients and build additional intensive care units.
He said the measure to restrict travel will also be imposed but it will not be a complete ban.
Gen Chan-o-cha said the emergency decree also puts in place measures to curb the movement of people in outbreak areas and restrict inter-provincial travel.
Speaking after the meeting, Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin said his officials and those from the Interior Ministry will explain the measures to business operators and ask them to cease the deployment of workers during the 30-day closure period.
During the period, workers will be given 50% of their wages under a ministerial regulation on unemployment benefits under the Communicable Disease Act, Mr Chomklin said.
Construction contracts will be extended during the period, he said, adding that the budget allocation for worker compensation will not be as much as the previous amount, which was worth about 10 billion baht.
This is because the measures will affect only some provinces and not the whole country, unlike the first wave, he said.
The DDC proposed that lockdowns should be restricted to high-risk areas such as zones with migrant workers, worker camps and particular markets and sub-districts, said Apisamai Srirangson, CCSA assistant spokeswoman.
“A total lockdown may not be the solution,” she said. “The meeting had to consider all aspects, including the economy.”
“Officials wondered if a total lockdown would prompt workers to return to their home provinces and spread the disease,” Dr Srirangson said.
The DDC said only “at-risk” businesses or activities should be suspended, she said.