BANGKOK — The government on Tuesday escalated its response to the coronavirus outbreak by indefinitely postponing the Thai New Year holidays, closing down schools, and imposing quarantines for travelers from several nations.
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said the postponement of the three-day holidays and closure of educational and entertainment institutions, along with banning gatherings, is necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has infected at least 177 people and disrupted the lives of untold numbers.
However, the Cabinet stopped short of “shutting down Bangkok” – banning travels and closing down restaurants – contrary to speculation on social media.
“Some measures may not come as fast as you hope for, or some measures might be too little,” PM Prayut said. “But the government must balance between the health and livelihood of the public.”
The announcement effectively scrapped the holidays and any events for Songkran. PM Prayut said the government will designate the holidays for the Thai New Year at a later date, though a government meeting on Monday suggested the celebration will take place in July instead.
It is the first time living memory that Songkran holidays are cancelled. The holidays, which marked the traditional New Year for the Thais for centuries, typically draw large crowds of Thai and foreign revellers to water fights and cultural festivities around the country. Hundreds of thousands also commute from Bangkok to the upcountry for vacationing or visiting their families.
Prayut said the Ministry of Transport will ensure that travelers can receive refunds for cancelling their flight and train bookings for Songkran.
Other measures announced by the government include:
- Shutting down schools and universities for 2 weeks starting from tomorrow.
- Shutting down bars, entertainment venues, and massage parlors for 2 weeks starting from tomorrow.
- Shutting down sports arenas, boxing stadiums, and horse racing tracks indefinitely starting from tomorrow.
- Banning large gatherings such as concerts, religious ceremonies, trade fairs, unless those exempted by provincial authorities.
- Banning civil servants from traveling to high-risk countries, unless special permissions are granted by their supervisors.
- Requiring restaurants to disinfect their facilities and practice health safety measures.
- Requiring travelers from South Korea, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Italy, and Iran to present health certificates upon arriving in Thailand. They may also be subject to 14 days of quarantine.
Thailand counts at least 177 infections so far; the latest cluster of patients was said to be linked to a boxing stadium in Bangkok.
Prayut also said the Labor Ministry will come up with measures to compensate workers and those affected by the closure of entertainment venues.