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Thailand Closes Bangkok Cinemas, Postpones Songkran Holiday in Coronavirus Response

Thais leave at the end of
Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

UPDATED: Thailand on Tuesday ordered the closure of cinemas and other entertainment facilities as part of a raft of measures intended to control the spread of the lethal coronavirus outbreak. It also said that the country’s biggest public holiday Songkran will not take place in April.

The cabinet of the national government approved the closure of bars, theaters, massage parlours, universities, public and private schools. But the measures are only for 14 days from March 18-31. And they only affect capital city Bangkok and its immediate surrounding districts. The 70-plus provincial governments have the power to make their own rules. Some have already moved to limit entertainment facilities. Others may choose not to.

“We are closing 22 locations in Bangkok and its surrounding 4 provinces, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samutprakarn and Nakorn Pathom,” SF Cinemas chief management officer, Suvannee Chinchiewchan told Variety. Thailand’s second largest cinema chain, SF operates 63 multiplexes around the country, with a total of 379 screens. “We still waiting for each (provincial) governor to instruct the law. Right now, there are two provinces that are announcing cinema closing, but with different criteria.”

On Wednesday, the largest chain, Major Cineplex announced that it would close all its cinemas nationwide. Its shutdown is also for 14 days, March, 18-31. SF Cinemas confirmed the same later on Wednesday.

The national government said that boxing rings, stadiums and horse racing tracks will be closed indefinitely.

The government insisted that the measures do not amount to a lockdown, as they do not affect freedom of movement, but only limit mass gatherings.

The national government said that it would postpone the Songkran holiday, which this year falls on April 13-15, in order to limit travel in the country. Songkran is the Thai New Year festival that traditionally marks the beginning of summer and is notable for millions of migrant workers traveling to their hometown. It is marked with street parties and much throwing of water. New dates for the festivities may be announced in the future.

The moves come some eight weeks after Thailand’s neighbor China first began to take aggressive measures against the spread of the disease. Some scientists suspect that Thailand has either under-reported cases of infection, or that it has not done enough testing and contact-tracing to uncover the full extent of the problem. Each of the last two days have seen the confirmation of more than 30 new Covid-19 cases, raising the current official total to 177.

Thailand is also limiting inbound travel by trimming its visa waiver and visa exemption programs, requiring visitors to have medical certificates proving that they are disease-free, and requiring them to take out $10,000 of medical insurance. Those visitors not deterred by the new measures will be required to download an app or install a government-provided SIM card that allows the authorities to track their location.