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‘Zero Chance’ Bars Reopen Jan. 16 as Thailand Begins to Shut Down Again Over Omicron

While beer bars and brothels are open around Pattaya, the large go-go bars on Walking Street will remain closed after Jan. 16. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)
While beer bars and brothels are open around Pattaya, the large go-go bars on Walking Street will remain closed after Jan. 16. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

Restrictions on bars and nightclubs won’t be lifted on Jan. 16 and, in fact, could go the other way, with alcohol again banned, as the government’s panic over the omicron coronavirus variant deepens.

While no decision has been announced, the writing clearly is on the wall for those hoping to a return to normalcy in Thailand.

Public Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Kiattiphum Wongjit told the Thai-language Daily News on Monday that its unlikely the much-anticipated “reopening” of bars, nightclubs, karaoke joints and soapy massage parlors will happen Jan. 16 as earlier announced as omicron sweeps across the country.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday said the Department of Disease Control had planned to allow the full-scale reopening of entertainment places on Jan. 16 but due to the present Covid-19 outbreaks, it would propose to delay the reopening. Mr Anutin said he agreed with the stance.

Anutin blamed “modified entertainment venues” – i.e. bars operating at restaurant with the help of dodgy certifications and bribes to corrupt police – for not following the “Covid-Free Settings” policy and not enforcing social distancing.

The fact is, most bars in Thailand already are open. Only the largest clubs – think major huge nightclubs, fully operational go-go bars and soapy palaces – remain shuttered, although even some go-go bars in Pattaya and Phuket have reopened as “restaurants” without dancing.

The Public Health Ministry and Center for Covid-19 Situatio Administration are conferring today on the bar issue as well as whether to extend the suspension of the Test & Go tourist-entry scheme.

Inside the nightlife industry, no one expects a Jan. 16 reopening to happen.

“There’s zero chance,” said the owner of two go-go bars in Bangkok. “Not a slim chance. Zero.”

While official confirmed-case numbers continue to hover around 3,000 – Thailand officially reported 3,091 new Covid-19 cases and 12 deaths on Tuesday – the sense is that the actual number of infected is significantly higher.

“Fucking Covid everywhere,” an exasperated owner of both restaurants and nightclubs in Bangkok said Monday. The go-go bar owner agreed, saying he personally knows of seven people currently infected.

Government officials, both provincial and national, apparently feel the same way. Not only will bars not reopen fully this month, but restrictions on businesses and society already are returning.

Chonburi over the weekend imposed a mandate requiring not only staff at the city’s “restaurants” to be tested daily for Covid-19, but customers as well.

The Khon Kaen Communicable Diseases Committee last week again banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in restaurants for until Jan. 7, a measure likely to be extended after 143 cases were reported in the Issan province Monday, up 40 from Sunday. The province also closed all its schools until at least Jan. 14 and canceled Children’s Day festivities.

Phuket followed suit Tuesday, announcing its schools will return to online-only until at least Jan. 14.

In Ubon Ratchathani, the governor of the Northeast province on Monday ordered the closure of all schools, cinemas, gyms and sports stadiums and fields and banned dine-in service at air-conditioned restaurants.

The province has been reporting several hundred new coronavirus cases a day with more than 600 of them tied to a bar operating as a “restaurant”.

The curbs on alcohol sales and dine-in service in Issan may preface similar restrictions coming to Bangkok and even nationwide soon. While the CCSA’s operations chief reaffirmed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s earlier pledge that there would be no more national lockdowns, he said provincial governors have the power to shut down their own jurisdictions.

Bangkok’s governor has never been shy about kneejerking his way through disease control.