Impatience appears to be growing in the nightlife sector and across the foreign tourism industry for not only a return to full normality but stronger support for Thailand’s vibrant nighttime culture which is at the heart of the country’s attraction to foreign visitors. This took on a political tone this week with the Thai cabinet voting down a proposal from public health officials to rescind the face mask mandate in June while the new Governor of Bangkok and former Pheu Thai Party minister, Chadchart Sittipunt, has voiced support for such a move in the capital.

The Governor of Phuket, Narong Woonsiew, on Friday, rescinded a May 31st order which would have made face masks optional in public parks, on beaches and in open spaces where social distancing can be easily achieved. The sudden reversal of the order came on Friday after a series of clarifications and walk backs on Wednesday and Thursday. This week, the cabinet in Bangkok, in a surprising move, rejected a proposal to scrap the face mask requirement from mid-June. Meanwhile, the newly installed Governor of Bangkok, Chadchart Sittipunt, has indicated that he would like to see an end to face masks in Bangkok to boost trade and is to consult with officials on the matter.

The newly installed Governor of Bangkok Chadchart Sittipunt (centre) this week signalled he was in favour of ending the public face mask mandate in the city in favour of boosting trade. His comments came before the Governor of Phuket, Narong Woonsiew (inset right), on Friday, suddenly rescinded a May 31st order which appeared to introduce an easing of the restriction which is seen as a growing problem for the foreign tourism sector as face mask restrictions are being scaled back worldwide. The moves follow a surprise cabinet decision, early last week, to quash a plan by the Ministry of Public Health to lift the face mask mandate nationally later this month.

Just hours after taking office at Bangkok City Hall, the new governor Chadchart Sittipunt has come out in favour of eliminating the face mask mandate in Thailand’s capital which remains in force and was reinforced, this week, with a surprise decision of the cabinet, meeting at Government House, on Monday, to strike down plans to abolish the provision by mid-June nationwide.

Face masks back on as cabinet votes down an end to the mandate in June. Nightlife trade slams reopening

This follows confusion in Phuket, over the last few days, when Governor Narong Woonsiew was, first of all, forced to clarify the wording of an order issued on May 31st which appeared to indicate that Phuket was doing away with compulsory face masks in public locations once there was adequate space.

He then announced the withdrawal of the May 31st announcement.

Surprise announcement of a relaxation of the face mask mandate came as local police in Phuket geared up to remind foreigners to mask up while in public

This news came as a surprise as, earlier in the week, the Phuket Police had given instructions and training to officers to politely remind foreigners and holidaymakers on the island that wearing face masks in public is still mandatory.

This week, there did appear to be some relaxation of measures in the latest order from provincial authorities on the holiday island with face masks listed as not required on Phuket’s beaches, in public parks and in large public spaces where it is easy to keep a distance of 2 metres.

This was underlined mid-week by the Chairman of Phuket Tourism Council Thaneth Tantipiriyakij even as the governor, on Thursday and later on Friday, moved to underline that face masks were still mandatory on the island as they are also in Bangkok and throughout Thailand.

Inconvenience for foreign tourists as most western countries and areas have done away with face masks

Failure to comply with the legal order could result in a fine of up to ฿20,000 and, in theory, could see anyone flouting the provision, which is made under the kingdom’s Emergency Decree, jailed for up to two years.

It comes as, in recent weeks, many foreigners in Bangkok and Phuket have been seen without face masks as they are no longer prevalent in western and European countries where the majority of foreign tourists currently arriving in Thailand, at this time, originate from.

At the same time, there has also been a significant increase in Indian tourists to Thailand where many Indian states such as Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, have brought back the mask mandate due to surges in the disease in recent times while most Southeast Asian countries except for Vietnam and Thailand, have dropped the requirement for face masks in public.

New Bangkok governor weighs in on the issue and says he is in favour of doing away with the face mask requirement in the capital but must consult experts

On Thursday, Mr Chadchart weighed in on the matter and told reporters that he considered the removal of the face mask mandate to be something necessary to revive the local economy in Bangkok.

However, the governor insisted that he would first of all consult with the city’s medical experts and advisors before deciding on the matter.

‘Bangkok’s overall Covid-19 situation appears to be not much different from that of Phuket, so we will base the decision on the face mask-wearing mandate mainly on medical facts and data rather than feelings,’ he disclosed. ‘A decision will be made as soon as possible.’

It is thought that Bangkok may at least follow the more liberal measures announced in Phuket on Tuesday with face masks being optional in large open spaces.

Encouraging words also for the nightlife trade

Governor Chadchart also had some encouraging words for the city’s nightlife trade which is campaigning for extended opening hours to boost the country’s vast array of nocturnal entertainment venues as part of Thailand’s ongoing revival of its once vast foreign tourism industry which is only slowly recovering from the pandemic shutdown.

This follows Wednesday’s official reopening of the nightlife sector amid protests from operators concerning face mask requirements, the order to close at midnight and even the ban on alcohol sales from 2 pm until 5 pm, a provision introduced in Thailand 50 years ago to curb drinking during work hours and which is seen as an anachronism in 2022 for many foreigners enjoying their holiday afternoons in the kingdom.

The confusion in Phuket on Thursday and Friday originated from a statement issued by the local government’s Public Relations Office, hoping to clarify the face mask provision for both local people and foreign tourists on the island.

Confusion over face masks as 90% of Phuket’s nightlife roars back to life as operators there and in Bangkok call out strongly for later closing times

This has now been rescinded in itself.

Face masks are still compulsory in public while it is not clear if any of the relaxations, supposedly clarified, are still in place.

The holiday island has seen 90% of its nightlife business reopening since Wednesday and there are reports that nearly twenty thousand foreign tourists flew into Phuket on the same day alone.

Operators in Phuket, as well as Bangkok, are also calling for later opening hours as an effective way to boost the local economy and make the island more attractive to prospective foreign tourists at the same time.

Wirawit Khreausombat is the President of a business operators association in the renowned Patong nightlife area of Phuket.

‘Our concern is that closing at midnight is a bit out of context here and doesn’t serve the tourism-dependent economy of Phuket well,’ he explained. 

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