The government must not resort to preferential treatment when it comes to enforcing orders to close wet markets as part of Covid-19 containment measures, says the BioThai Foundation.
BioThai (Biodiversity-Sustainable Agriculture-Food Sovereignty Action Thailand) made the call in response to the state order to shut 72 wet markets in 33 provinces visited by people infected with Covid-19. Thirty-three markets have since reopened although fear of the virus still lingers, turning away shoppers.
At a recent seminar titled: "Conserving the Wet Markets, Protecting Lives," in Bangkok, BioThai director Withoon Lianchamroom said the new wave of Covid-19 transmission had hit people who live from hand to mouth, including those connected to the wet market trade.
The order to close wet markets to limit the spread of the virus had hurt people's livelihoods. The markets involve the whole supply chain, from vendors, consumers, and farmers whose produce is sold there.
The closure policy was inconsistent and random, and had worsened the grievances of those at the bottom of the economy.
The government should realise wet markets are vital for the country's food security. It should also help retailers and "grocery shops on wheels". the so-called rot phumphuang which cater to people outside their homes.
There must be no double standard in enforcing the policy, Mr Withoon said, noting that while some wet markets seen as posing a high risk of virus transmission were closed for several days to allow for cleaning, modern, air-conditioned stores stayed open.
Mr Withoon said regulations must be issued to lift the standard of hygiene across all types of markets. That way, the markets will be clean and safe, which would keep them from having to be closed.
Vendors at markets closed should receive compensation allocated from the stimulus budget. However, they should also comply with the anti-virus transmission guidelines recommended by the Public Health Ministry.
The markets should, for example, designate clear entry and exit points, set up body temperature screening spots, install washing basins for people to regularly clean their hands, make wearing of face masks and social distancing compulsory, and launch a major clean-up of the market every week.
Authorities should also explain any decision to close a market. "Wet markets form a vital economic space and food security for a lot of people who are struggling during the pandemic crisis," he said.
Without a market to go to, many people are cut off from their regular food supplies. The wet markets offer diverse produce, raw ingredients as well as other everyday items, some of which are up to four times cheaper than those sold at convenience stores.
Mr Withoon added experts in the respiratory system confirmed the wet markets are less prone to viral transmission because trade is conducted in open and ventilated areas.
"The decision to close the markets must not be made by an individual authority but be based on credible information," he said.
"Taking away people's ability to make an income, even for a few days, only exacerbates inequality."
Meanwhile, Niphon Wichai, owner of a food outlet in Samut Prakan, said sales have plummeted after a wet market where he sourced fresh ingredients for cooking was temporarily closed and put on Covid-19 alert.
Mr Niphon said the shortage of ingredients forced him to cut back menus offered to customers.
Although the market has since resumed business, most shoppers have not returned, apparently still unnerved by the infections. "The market has gone quiet now. My income has dwindled," he said.