Safe opening needs clarity
In an abrupt move, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) on Thursday decided to ease lockdown measures for 13 business types with conditions, starting this morning.
The decision will bring many businesses -- including traditional massage parlours, game shops, internet cafes, and dancing academies, among others -- back to life, after forced closures left many people unemployed. Some activities, such as mass parties and gatherings, are now possible as long as attendee numbers are capped at 300. Permission must be sought for bigger events, the BMA said.
However, schools and some types of businesses, such as pubs and night entertainment venues, will have to stay closed.
The agency said it decided to ease the restrictions for some businesses as the Covid-19 situation in the country has improved, with the number of new infections steadily declining. As of Thursday, there were 14 new cases reported in Bangkok -- bringing the capital's total number of cases since the Samut Sakhon outbreak was reported on Dec 20 to 635.
Several provinces have also relaxed restrictions for the same reason. Chiang Mai, for instance, has allowed dining-in at food and beverage outlets from 5am-10pm. Alcohol consumption at those venues, however, remains banned.
While the BMA has yet to clarify the changes to dine-in hours, it is understood that restaurants in the capital must close at 9pm.
The move is understandable, considering the impact the latest outbreak has had on the economy which has yet to recover from the previous outbreak.
In fact, it is good news that Bangkok is being allowed to relax the curbs so soon, as this means the economy could rebound faster. That said, all must be done to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
To succeed, the BMA must ensure that its guidelines are effective and practical. Instructions must be clear, with no room for interpretation, to prevent violations and/or confusion.
It must do what it can to ensure that the fundamental directives -- wearing a mask in public places, social distancing and frequent handwashing -- are tightly followed. District offices should send teams to inspect food vendors to ensure the guidelines are followed and good hygiene is maintained.
And instead of arbitrarily capping the number of visitors to a venue, BMA should start considering the space-per-visitor ratio -- that is, the cap should reflect the maximum number of people allowed in a venue if they are to stay 1.5 metres apart.
Therefore, instead of just limiting gatherings to 300 people, the BMA must be more specific about room sizes and whether it is an enclosed or semi-enclosed space. With clear guidelines, it will be easier for both businesses and enforcement officers.
Unclear communications could send the wrong message to the public, which would result in a disaster. At the beginning of the latest outbreak, all agencies rushed to issue instructions, including requiring permits for interprovincial travel, which left many people perplexed. Such confusion must not happen again.
There must be zero complacency. This means all involved must pursue active case finding aggressively. No need to be afraid of numbers -- the sooner a case is detected, the better.
The government must learn the lessons from earlier outbreaks. No one, not the BMA nor city residents, can afford to let their guard down.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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