The Carousel beer bar n Pattaya's Walking Street sits empty and for sale. Nightlife could be shut even longer than Jan. 16, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said Thrusday. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)
The Carousel beer bar n Pattaya's Walking Street sits empty and for sale. Nightlife could be shut even longer than Jan. 16, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said Thrusday. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

The much-anticipated Jan. 16 reopening of bars and clubs may be delayed further by the emergence of the coronavirus omicron variant, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said.

“Enclosed venues where crowds gather and drink pose high risks. That may have to be put on hold,” Prayut told the media Thursday. “Please be patient and understand that the reopening of some provinces and businesses might have to be delayed due to the threat of the new variant. The government has to do this for the sake of everyone.”

After initially saying the government would consider reopening bars, clubs and other nightlife entertainment venues Dec. 1 – a date many foolishly took as a firm commitment – the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration last month said reopening could not happen until at least Jan. 16.

The Cabinet days later affirmed that date, but it could be pushed again.

“We would like to wait and see for a month. In this matter, we must listen to doctors and health authorities,” Prayut said.

Despite widespread bans on travelers from eight southern African countries where the omicron variant emerged, the highly mutated virus continues to spread around the world, with new cases reported in San Francisco, New York, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Thai officials not only said it’s only a matter of time until it’s found in Thailand, but it could already be here. Health and immigration authorities are frantically trying to track down more than 1,000 Thais and foreigners who arrived in Thailand from the region and other countries at risk for omicron to test them again.

While anecdotal evidence suggests that – despite having mutations that could make it more transmissible and vaccine-resistant – omicron could be “super mild” and pack less viral punch than other variants, global health officials say the variant’s true threat won’t be known for about three weeks.

No matter how strong the variant is, Prayut said there is no plan for another national lockdown.

“Strong measures, such as a lockdown across the country, will not be used yet as the government will carefully consider the impacts on the economy and tourism while choosing suitable measures that can keep people safe,” Prayut said. “As of now we will focus on implementing the ‘Covid-Free Setting’ in as many areas as possible.”

“Covid-Free Setting” is yet another certification for restaurants and other businesses that requires all staff be vaccinated for Covid-19, customers ideally show proof of full vaccination and antigen tests performed on those who cannot or whose vaccinations are more than six months old.

It is the standard expected to be foisted on bars, clubs and entertainment areas once they reopen.

But with authorities continuing the shut down the industry, authorities finally will offer compensation to both operators and workers specifically in the entertainment sector.

The Center for Economic Situation Administration is meeting today to relief measures for the nightlife industry, as well as other economic-protection and tax restructuring ideas.