Risky entertainment venues in 41 provinces, including Bangkok, will be ordered to shut their doors for two weeks, as a new surge of Covid-19 cases spawned by the Thong Lor cluster spreads rapidly across the nation.
The venues include pubs, bars, karaoke and massage parlours. However, the new order does not cover traditional Thai massage spas.
Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), said on Thursday the closures would take effect after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signs the order at a CCSA meeting today.
The closure proposal was put forward on Thursday by the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) under the Public Health Ministry.
Health and security officials agreed at the EOC meeting that a blanket closure in all provinces nationwide was not necessary. They opted for what Dr Taweesilp called "targeted therapy" in provinces with the potential to spread Covid-19.
Their prime concern was the spread of the UK variant of the virus, with cases detected in Thailand for the first time.
"It would be unfair to prescribe a strong dose to all provinces," the CCSA spokesman said.
The target provinces were those plagued by new infections and those at risk because they were a gateway, or main passage, for travellers, he said.
The decision comes ahead of the long Songkran holiday next week, when millions of people will hit the road for vacations and family reunions.
New cases linked to pubs, bars and clubs in the Thong Lor area during April 3-8 have leapt to 399 out of 3,112 tested. Another 1,075 tests are awaiting results.
The CCSA spokesman said the centre decided to make the closure decision public ahead of the signing of the order today so that businesses could prepare in advance.
Today's meeting will also announce a work-from-home policy for state agencies and encourage private firms to allow their employees to do the same. Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said on Thursday there was no need for a nationwide lockdown as long as people strictly follow disease-prevention protocols.
The government has given provincial governors the authority to issue measures as they see fit to contain the spread of Covid-19 in their areas. Asked by reporters if the government will review the plan to reopen Phuket to foreign tourists without having to undergo quarantine on July 1, Gen Anupong said the issue may be discussed again by the CCSA and the cabinet.
Dr Yong Poovorawan, head of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, said that the UK Covid variant now spreading through Thailand might have been brought into the country from Cambodia, either by Thais crossing the border or migrant workers.
More than 1,500 cases of the UK Covid variant were reported in Cambodia between Feb 20 and March 19, Dr Yong, the respected virologist wrote in a post on his Facebook page. In light of this, the current spread of the UK variant in Thailand may have been caused by the cross-border movement of people rather than through the quarantine system, Dr Yong said.
At least 11 provinces at time of press have already imposed quarantine for 14 days on visitors arriving from Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom and Nonthaburi, which have now become centres of the outbreak. The provinces are Buri Ram, Chiang Mai, Phetchabun, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Songkhla, Roi Et, Amnat Charoen, Lamphun, Mukdahan, Khon Kaen and Bueng Kan.
In Chiang Rai, new cases reached 36 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in the latest outbreak up to 47. Most of them are linked to clusters from entertainment venues in Chiang Mai and other provinces. Governor Prachon Pratsakun, in his capacity as chairman of the provincial communicable disease control committee, said all visitors to the province are required to undergo 14-day quarantine. Locals who return from the five red-zone provinces are required to report themselves to local leaders in their communities so that local health volunteers can begin monitoring their health.