Bangkok booze ban is the last thing we need
Social distancing as a means to curb Covid-19? OK. Partial curfew after 10pm until 4am, probably OK.
A ban on booze sales for at least 10 days for Bangkok, starting today? What!?!
I, like many other people, am baffled about the latest move: How it can help the country, Bangkok in particular, fight the disease? Unfortunately, no one can explain this to me sensibly or rationally.
Capt Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, spokesman of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), where his father, Pol Gen Aswin is the sitting governor, made public the ban at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) at Government House yesterday. In his announcement, he briefly cited the reasoning: The situation "is getting better by the day and we don't want to see super-spreading during Songkran". Excuse me?
The spokesman was probably not aware what would happen. The ban, which came at very short notice, saw bustling scenes at city supermarkets as large numbers of people scrambled there to get a bottle or two before the ban takes effect today. Obviously, no one was that worried about the disease. Poor souls.
And perhaps I should ask the BMA, Capt Pongsakorn and his father. Weren't such big crowds a breach of mass-gathering, social- or physical-distancing rules? Effectively, it undermined the city's anti-virus campaign.
With the booze ban, Bangkok joins some 10 provinces that have implemented such a measure, at different levels, previously. If my memory serves me right, Sakon Nakhon was the first province to do so, late in March.
For some provinces like Lamphun and Nakhon Pathom, the ban began early this month and will last longer till April 30. Chon Buri put in place only a partial ban, as the province prohibits booze sales from 6pm till 6am daily. It is not clear how long the curbs will last there.
I wouldn't be surprised if more provinces join the bandwagon today. We do not believe in the idea of "herd immunity" but it's not unusual for our state officials to have a herd mentality. They love to do things as if they are part of a herd. Look at how they are obsessed with uniforms, or wearing special outfits for particular events.
In fact, I do appreciate any well-thought measures and the dedicated efforts of state officials, in particular, health personnel in fighting against the virus. But the 10-day ban on booze sales is over the top. It only gives us an idea of how paranoid those in power are.
Like many booze-related orders, like the limited time for booze purchases from noon-2pm and 5pm-midnight (when buying a glass of beer during the prohibited times is illegal but buying in bulk is possible); or zero booze sales during elections, etc, the latest ban is just bizarre, if not downright idiotic.
Those in their right minds should realise that, with the virus outbreak, this Songkran, the traditional new year for Thailand and neighbouring countries, is going to be different from previous years.
The authorities need not worry so much about drunk driving because the exodus is already over given that the BMA shut down almost all businesses last month. The decision, which swept many unknowing city residents off their feet, left large numbers jobless overnight. They had little choice but to go back to their families in the provinces where they can at least fill their stomachs with food.
And now several provinces are in lockdown. On top of that, the government has removed Songkran from the country's holiday list in its desperate attempts to contain the coronavirus.
More importantly, the curfew which has been in place under the state of emergency since April 2 means no late-night hanging out for anyone, revellers or not. With the shutdown of eating places and watering holes, the chances of people gathering to celebrate the Thai new year look almost nil. In case the decision-makers hadn't realised, those harsh measures that triggered an economic slump have already killed off the festive mood.
It's ironic that Capt Pongsathorn mentioned concerns over super-spreading. Should I humbly remind him that had the BMA under his father's control properly regulated entertainment venues such as a notorious Thong Lor pub and bar, taken precautions and encouraged social distancing in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, then we may not have had to experience this virus spreading at such a pace -- about 150 cases from a single pub!
And we should certainly not allow the BMA spokesman to forget that since then Bangkok, after another mass round of virus infections from a controversial army-owned boxing stadium, has since become Thailand's Covid-19 epicentre.
The booze sales ban at this juncture seems like simply a face-saving measure at the expense of us city people.
Former editorial page Editor
Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.