Home Thailand

Thailand’s Leaders Grasping at Straws to Keep Bars Closed, Alcohol Out of Restaurants

Analysis: With community transmission of Covid-19 at zero and contact-tracing in place, the junta leaders can't justify their war on booze

Thaialnd Restaurats Social Distancing X CLosed Seats
"X" marks the spot where diners cannot sit at many Thailand restaurants under stringent disease-control rules.

Thailand’s leaders continued their war on alcohol Monday with the official announcement that not only will bars and pubs remain closed until at least July 1, but that booze still won’t be allowed to be sold in restaurants.

The notice published in the Royal Gazette detailed all the businesses that must remain closed until June 30, dashing earlier hopes that “Phase 4” of Thailand’s economic reopening would come June 15.

Indeed there may, in fact, be a Phase 4 declared two weeks from now, but it will be a shadow of what was promised, or at least, delineated earlier by public officials.

Thailand has reported no cases of community transmission of the coronavirus in a week and has recorded only single-digit numbers of community infections for a month. That has bar owners and rest auteurs banging their heads against the wall over the former generals’ refusal to pull their collective lead out.

Also prohibited until at least June 30 are the reopenings of boxing stadiums, horse-racing tracks, bull/fish/cock-fighting venues and banquet halls, all places where large groups gather indoors, shout and spray potentially virus-laden droplets everywhere.

Also on the list are water and amusement parks, pool halls, videogame centers arcades, martial arts schools and nursing homes, which Thailand thankfully closed early to avoid the tragedies seen in elderly care facilities worldwide.

Finally, the list concludes with those businesses that everyone know exists, but should not be mentioned in polite company, unless there’s a major pandemic spreading around the world: sexual massage parlors, bath houses, saunas and steamrooms.

While closing places where large groups gather close together and scream at the top of their lungs is still pretty justifiable. But prohibitions on alcohol at this point can only be attributed to overcautiousness.

With cases at zero and nearly all other businesses open, the government needed only one final piece of the puzzle to reopen bars: A vast contact-tracing system.

It got that in Thai Chana, a fundamentally flawed web app with gaping privacy holes that was introduced on May 17, supposedly as “voluntary”. It has become anything but, with everywhere, from malls to movie theaters to even 7-Eleven requiring the public to “check in” and have the government record everyone’s movements.

The government has given up the “voluntary” façade when it reopened prisons to family visits on Monday, explicitly requiring its use.

It’s now commonly accepted that pubs, nightclubs and other bars will also be required to use Thai Chana to track all its customers. So, the question begs, what is the government waiting on?

Probably nothing other than the old-school grandfathers’ continuing crusade against alcohol. Thailand may be Buddhist, not Muslim, but you’d hardly know it from how the ex-junta leaders regulate booze.

While the 30,000-baht whiskey and champagne undoubtedly flow freely at their mansions, the public – which they treat as their ill-behaved children – aren’t to be trusted with a Chang, it seems.

While there’s plenty of teeth-gnashing over pub and club closures, the real victims are restaurant owners. You can buy a beer at the 7-Eleven across the street, but you cant have a brew with your burger?

It’s now commonly accepted that pubs, nightclubs and other bars will also be required to use Thai Chana to track all its customers. So, the question begs, what is the government waiting on?

The official justification is that it would cause people to linger and talk more, potentially spreading the virus. But when there is no evidence of community transmission, that justification rings hollow.

While government stuffed suits are patting themselves on the back for allowing restaurants to reopen a month ago, the conditions under which they have to operate have made it nearly impossible to turn a profit.

The capacity caps, social-distancing of tables and – in some cases of dining parties themselves – mean eateries can’t attract the numbers of customers they need to survive. Diners are asking why they should go out to eat if they can’t even sit together, despite the fact they may sleep and shower together.

Add in the alcohol-sales ban and many restaurants and pubs with restaurant licenses simply have chosen not to reopen at all. Many Bangkok pubs makes 60 percent or more of their revenue from booze sales. Without that, there’s simply not enough revenue to cover expenses.

Of course, as was shown by the whiplash reversal of the booze ban May 1, that hard June 30 cap could be changed. But don’t hold your breath.