The updated Dark Red zone to be in use from today onwards, and last at least 30 days.

Restrictions in Bangkok tightened after one week of relaxation as community infection widespread and ICU beds almost full

Targeted lockdown is designated against construction camps in the city, while the four lower Southern provinces have been placed under the Dark Red zone, the strictest, as new cases surge following the more virulent variant of Beta from South Africa

The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has decided to reverse its decision that further relaxed restrictions in the city and other provinces nationwide last week, going back to strict restrictions especially in the dark red zone, which has included “targeted lockdown” against risky clusters like construction camps.

Its Regulation No. 25, issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005), was signed by the PM and published in the Royal Gazette late Saturday night and will come into effect for one month from today onwards.

“Because the situation in the capital of Bangkok and its peripheries are risking to trigger our medical capacity collapse, given the number of new infection cases and those receiving treatment in hospital, which has been inclining up to several thousand a day. And if we do nothing to stem the curve, it would affect our public health system…

“In addition, we have learned about the widespread of community infection of Covid-19 around infected clusters in Bangkok and its peripheries following our active case finding. And we have also learned about the transmissions of the Beta variant in the four Southern provinces, which is more virulent, thus being risky.

“In consultation with senior medical advisors, we have decided to impose necessary restrictions and designate targeted areas to try to slow down and curb the spread of the virus and lower the infection rate,” the government noted in the regulation.

Under the latest regulation, the disease control zoning has been readjusted once again by adding six more provinces into the maximum and strict control zone or the Dark Red zone, the strictest. They are two central provinces near Bangkok; Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon, plus the four lower Southern provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, where the Beta variant from South Africa is spreading.

The latest regulation will see disease control measures become tightened in this zone especially in Bangkok and its peripheries, with key businesses and activities placed under strict restrictions including construction camps, which are now the major source of the virus outbreaks in the city.

As reported by the CCSA yesterday, of 111 infected clusters in the city, 43 were construction camps. Some of them are also the source of the Delta variant from India, which spreads faster than the Alpha variant from the UK.

Construction camps are ordered to be on lockdown for one month. No construction activities are allowed nor labours moving in and out of their camps. Construction firms or authorities violating these new restriction rules could face legal action, according to the regulation.

Other businesses or activities which will go under tightened restrictions are; factories, which will go under the Bubble and Seal measure if infected; restaurants, which will not be allowed to serve dining-in; and hotels or convention halls, which will not be allowed to hold banquets or meetings. Gatherings of more than 20 people are also banned at this point.

Authorities will conduct active case finding in at-risk venues or locations such as markets, workplaces, and others and could close the places if needed. Inter-provincial travels among workers or labours will be prohibited if no permission granted. Public members, meanwhile, are urged to refrain from inter-provincial travels.

Meanwhile, the newly declared Dark Red zone in the South will see stricter inter-provincial travels as people will be asked to show their IDs and permission granted by concerned authorities. Active case finding will be conducted intensively to identify cases and highly infected communities could face restrict movements or closed as a means to contain the spread of the virus.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha conceded during the press briefing on Friday that the previous measures would have been too lax and fallen behind the spread of the virus and they needed to be readjusted to keep up with the situation. However, he insisted that the new measures were not involved a complete lockdown as feared and the government tried to impose lockdown and restrictions as specifically as possible.

“Now, we have learned where are the true sources of the spread of the virus, so we have decided to implement these measures,” said PM Prayut.

PM Prayut and his senior medical advisors during the press briefing after the CCSA meeting on Friday. Credit: Government House

Heated debates

Last week, the government just further relaxed its restrictions in various degrees following different shades of zoning. As a result, almost all businesses and activities in over 60 provinces placed under the controlled and high surveillance zones were allowed to return to almost normal, except for entertainment and alcohol. Bangkok and some three provinces nearby were left under the maximum and strict control zone, while the rest were placed under the maximum control zone. Even so, they saw some loosened restrictions including more dining-in in restaurants, and several public places opened.

Last week’s adjustment of the zoning was in line with the new policy addressed by the PM, who wished to see the country return to normal as quickly as possible with the goal set for the country’s reopening in the next 120 days.

This was essentially aimed at helping businesses and the economy to be resumed and revived although the infection rate remains stably high since the third wave of the outbreak hit the country in early April, plus the increasing threat from virus mutations and new variants.

Thailand had earned much praise from international community during the first round of the outbreak, which saw it capable of controlling the outbreak, but during the second and third rounds of the outbreak, exploding in last December and early Songkran Holiday in April, the country has been hit pretty hard.

Before Songkran, the government had refused to declare disease control zoning, but after the holiday as the outbreak brought by the new variant from the UK was spreading very fast, it decided to impose the zoning, but no provinces including Bangkok, which was the epicentre of the third wave, were placed under the maximum and strict control zone, the strictest. Only 18 provinces were placed under the maximum control zone, and 59 more under the controlled zone.

It then reinforced the zoning starting from May 1 onwards, which saw Bangkok and some other five provinces placed under the maximum and strict control zone, with no dining-in allowed in restaurants, a ban on gatherings of no more than 20 people, as well as strict domestic trips out of the zone.

However, due to economic pressure, it started to let the guard down on May 18, allowing some easing on restrictions imposed against businesses and activities, including 25% dining-in in restaurants in the dark red zone, and later the regulation last week, which saw a further loosening of the restrictions.

The government’s decision last week drew flak from medical communities, whose senior staff decided to step out to inform the public about the near-collapse situation of medical capacity.

The issue turned heated during the week before the government had succumbed to the pressure caused by the overwhelmed medical facilities. ICU beds in the city, were reported, to have left only around 20 as over 400 of them were fully occupied by severe cases in needs of ventilators. Read: Widespread Covid-19 community infection detected as ICU beds in Bangkok near limits

Some medical experts have expressed their views regarding the latest regulation, saying they did not much hope that the measures would help stem the virus as it has already spread into communities. At most, they hoped that the measures could help slow down case transfers into ICU units, thus lowering the number of severe cases to the point that it will not overwhelm the facilities.

A number of public members, meanwhile, have expressed their resentment against the government following its frustrating decisions and moves. they posted in anger on social media, slamming it with various reasons, ranging from inconsistency, incompetency, and others.

The other zones, meanwhile, will remain the same.

Read: 50% indoor dining in dark red zone allowed as restrictions further eased