Operators of nightlife outlets in Bangkok have voiced disappointment and frustration with restrictions on their operating hours as many gear up to reopen this week.
From Wednesday, many pubs, bars, karaoke venues, massage parlours and similar nightspots will be allowed to reopen in 31 provinces after an extended shutdown to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
Bangkok, Chon Buri, Phuket, and Chiang Mai are among 31 provinces classified as green and blue zones where night entertainment venues will no longer have to categorise themselves as restaurants to serve alcohol, although midnight closing time will remain in place.
Venues in the remaining 46 provinces classified as high-surveillance yellow zones, however, must continue to reclassify their businesses for now.
According to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), when allowed to reopen, nightlife businesses will be required to follow Covid-Free Setting measures imposed by the Ministry of Public Health.
Thanupong Paensodsaicharoenkij, owner of one nightlife outlet in Khao San Road, welcomed the latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions but said it was perceived as a half-measure to bolster a battered industry in need of a boost.
Many tourists are switching their destinations from Thailand to neighbouring countries due to Covid restrictions and entry requirements such as high-value insurance, he said.
“It has been more than two years since the outbreak and we here in Khao San are up to our ears in debt. Yet when the outbreak is easing the government gets nervous,” he said.
Another operator in the Sukhumvit area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, criticised disease control measures as impractical for night entertainment businesses.
No soapy massage parlours will be able to open their doors to customers if the Covid-19 containment rules are strictly enforced, he said.
“Customers don’t visit these places just for a bath and massage. How are they supposed to keep a safe distance from those who give them the service? The patrons aren’t happy seeing their masseuses with masks on,” he said.
He also said several nightlife outlets in the Thong Lor and Ekkamai areas are already staying open beyond midnight and using antigen test kits to screen their customers for Covid-19.
“As long as they aren’t dead drunk, visitors are afraid of Covid-19. We don’t have entertainment clusters and that’s not purely because of government measures,” he said.
Sanga Ruangwattanakul, president of the Khao San Road Business Association, said the June 1 easing of restrictions will hardly make any difference to nightlife venues which are calling for an extension of opening hours beyond midnight.
He said if nightspots are allowed to open until 2 am in all provinces from September, an additional 300-400 billion baht could flow into the economy.
“Currently we already open and serve alcohol until midnight, so the latest measure doesn’t help much. Why don’t the government go beyond that? The ban on alcohol sales from 2pm to 5pm isn’t helpful either,” he said.
Mr Sanga also called on the government to revoke the emergency decree and the communicable disease control law widely seen as deterrents to international tourists.
“The outbreak is easing and most people are fully vaccinated. Japan has already relaxed outdoor face-mask rules. But the government is afraid of this and that. We will be left behind,” he said.
In Bangkok, all night entertainment venues are required to register and self-assess via Thai Stop Covid 2Plus (TSC 2+) and seek permission before reopening, according to city clerk Khachit Chatchawanit.
The district office then performs an inspection to determine if the operators are in compliance before the green light is given.
Thai Stop Covid 2Plus applies to various nightspot types and covers three areas: a Covid-free environment including social distancing and a proper ventilation system; Covid-free staff including regular screening using ATKs; and Covid-free customers who must show proof of vaccinations.