Govt mulls easing Covid curbs
Emergency, curfew likely to be extended
The government will likely extend the emergency decree for another month as it weighs up when to ease the current restrictions and allow some businesses to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
How to proceed was high on the agenda at a meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Monday, with the current emergency decree set to expire on April 30.
A source at the meeting said that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as CSSA chairman, expressed concern for people affected by the lockdown, and instructed the Public Health Ministry to liaise with business operators and consider allowing some to reopen, such as markets and department stores, particularly in provinces which remain free of coronavirus infections.
Entertainment venues will remain closed and the nationwide 10pm to 4am curfew is expected to be extended for at least another month, the source said, although Gen Prayut told security officers to allow some additional types of delivery vehicles to operate during the night.
The source also said that the extension of the emergency decree will not be on the agenda of today's cabinet meeting, although National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Somsak Rungsita has said that the NSC will present a proposal for the extension sometime this week.
CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin said on Monday that Gen Prayut had stressed at the meeting the need for weighing up the battle against the virus with the need for businesses to reopen.
"They have to stay in balance, and go along with each other," the spokesman said.
"The government will ease restrictions on businesses reopening only when it does not place people at a higher risk of catching the disease."
The message from the prime minister was that the government would consider measures proposed both by state agencies and the business sector to contain the virus before making a decision, according to Dr Taweesilp.
Dr Taweesilp said provinces with no virus cases were high on the list to be allowed to ease restrictions.
Nine provinces remain free of reported infections -- Ang Thong, Bung Kan, Chai Nat, Kamphaeng Phet, Phichit, Nan, Ranong, Sing Buri and Trat.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul met with deans of faculties of medicine from various universities to discuss guidelines for easing the lockdown, which will be presented to the CSSA for consideration.
Speaking after the meeting, Dr Kamnuan Ungchusak, an adviser to the public health minister, said that the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade of Thailand, and the Federation of Thai Industries have agreed that before any businesses will be allowed to reopen, they must be categorised according to the level of risk.
They must also calculate how much space they have and how many customers should be allowed inside to keep possible transmission to a minimum while they must also ensure their premises are well-ventilated, Dr Kamnuan said.
He said that high-risk businesses such as bars, pubs, entertainment venues, and karaoke establishments will remain closed.
Medium-risk businesses, such as barber shops, hair salons, restaurants, food shops, department stores and shopping malls, would be allowed to reopen gradually, though they must not hold sales which draw large numbers of customers and record entry and exit information to track customers, Dr Kamnuan said.
He said that it was also agreed at the meeting that a nationwide real-time monitoring system should be implemented to provide people with updates on local transmissions.
If these guidelines are followed, provinces which have no new infections may be allowed to reopen first, Dr Kamnuan said, adding that a total of 32 provinces have not reported any new infections over the past 14 days.
Restrictions would also be eased in provinces which remain free of infections until the end of this month, as well as another 38 provinces that have only had sporadic infections, he said.
However, Dr Thira Woratanarat, a health expert at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of medicine, on Monday issued an open letter asking Gen Prayut to think carefully.
"Restrictions should be eased only when we are actually ready. If the transmission comes back in a second wave as in Japan and Singapore, controlling the virus will be twice as hard," he wrote.
Also on Monday, a government source disclosed details of the message Gen Prayut sent to 20 wealthy businessmen in which he requested their assistance with projects to help vulnerable people affected by the outbreak.
The source told the Bangkok Post that the prime minister would definitely not be asking for direct financial contributions.