RAYONG — When Tawatchai’s nine-year-old son goes to school in Pattaya, his teacher asks him if his dad recently drove to Rayong to manage his shabu-shabu restaurant.
“The teacher told him, ‘If your dad went to Rayong recently, don’t come to school,’” Tawatchai Jitbuntherng, 46, said. Tawatchai owns the Shabu You restaurant, directly across the street from the Laem Thong mall where an Egyptian airman infected with COVID-19 went shopping on July 10, setting off a nationwide virus scare.
Governors from some provinces have declared that those coming back from Rayong should be quarantined for 14 days, while tourism to the entire province ebbs to almost a complete stop. Tawatchai, like many other Rayong locals, says almost all of his business income is gone.
A woman also posted on social media last week that her hotel booking was cancelled after the management learned she was a Rayong resident.
“Before, I made almost 40,000 baht a day at the Rayong city branch,” he said. “Now income has dropped by more than 90 percent; I barely make 3,000 to 4,000 baht a day.”
He added, “It was already bad when COVID first broke out. It’s much worse now.”
Tawatchai also owned other restaurants in Pattaya, where he usually lives with his son. He also travels frequently to his Rayong branches to deliver ingredients and run the places.
“We used to get lots of Bangkokian and foreigner customers, but now it’s all gone,” he said. “My restaurant managers are all paranoid since the Egyptian man incident. They’re so scared going into Laem Thong mall but they have to, to deposit money into the bank.”
The Rayong city Shabu You shop was closed all throughout April and May, and only opened in June to few customers, which dropped even more after the virus scare. “I can’t believe this. We were so careful, but the government let their own guard down because of VIPs.
The Egyptian airman left his quarantine hotel, D Varee Diva Central Rayong Hotel and visited Laem Thong Department Store on July 10. Other people in his group visited Central Plaza Rayong.
They had previously visited Pakistan and China. It is unclear who was responsible for approving their arrival – each government agency denies involvement – and no legal action was taken over the quarantine slipup.
Komson Chaimala, 39, runs a taxi stand right next to the D Varee Diva Central Rayong Hotel. Whenever people call him to book a taxi, or wave him over, he’s met with the same questions: ‘Did you pick up any foreigners recently? Did you pick up any customers at Laem Thong?’
“These are questions people are always asking,” Komson said. “People are afraid. I tell them I didn’t pick up any foreigners or pick up anyone at Laem Thong, because I’m careful too, and I really didn’t.”
Ko Kloi Floating Market, located right next to Central Plaza Rayong, has also seen drastic decreases in visitors despite the infected not visiting the market at all.
“The infected person only went to a few spots, but the media played it up and now people are avoiding all of Rayong,” owner Pitaporn Samalapa said. “We need people to come back. There needs to be positive news about Rayong, since it’s safe here now.”
Compared to pre-pandemic times, the market has only about 100 visitors per day as opposed to 700, which were mostly tourists. July 24 will have been two weeks since the Egyptian airman left the country on July 11, or when Rayong should be declared safe, Pitaporn said.
Pitaporn hopes visitors come back soon. The provincial commerce ministry is holding a street food festival on Friday and Saturday at the Rayong Province Stadium, which he hopes many people come to.