BANGKOK (AP) — Drinkers in Thailand desperate for a tall beer or a nightcap after a three-week ban on alcohol sales are out of luck. Authorities in the capital, Bangkok, have announced that the ban, imposed in April to fight the spread of the coronavirus by discouraging irresponsible social gatherings, will be extended until further notice.
The ban was imposed for varying lengths of time in all 76 provinces and is likely to be renewed in all of them. Bars and restaurants were already closed in March, except for takeout and delivery.
Niks Anuman Rajadhon, the owner of two cocktail bars in Bangkok, said his business was greatly affected by the March closures, leaving him little cash flow to take care of his 14 employees.
“When the closure was imposed, we understood and cooperated with the state to control the pandemic. We adapted our business by selling bottled alcohol drinks and drink vouchers that can be used when the bars are reopened,” he said Thursday. “But the ban on selling booze announced April 9 was like the last nail hammered into our coffin, completely sealing off business.”
“Now that the ban is extended, I am very stressed,” he said. “It is like committing murder on the industry.”
There was urgency to the ban in early April, when new cases of the coronavirus were ballooning and a holiday notorious for alcohol-fueled merrymaking was looming. The Songkran New Year holiday was postponed and official celebrations canceled, but there remained concerns that impromptu drinking parties could not be policed.
When the ban on selling alcoholic beverages in Bangkok was announced on April 10, there was a rush to liquor stores and supermarkets to stock up in the few hours before it came into effect. It has already been extended once and had been set to expire on Thursday.
The industry’s importance is reflected in the ranking of Thailand’s billionaires by Forbes magazine. No. 3 Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi’s empire was built on liquor, and Santi Bhirombhakdi, from the family behind Singha beer, is No. 15.
“I understand the government’s intention to control the outbreaks by stopping people from partying, as Thai people culturally love group drinking as a way of life,” said office worker Napaporn Chokchatchawan, who had expected only a monthlong ban and bought five bottles of liquor just before it took effect. “But from the consumer’s point of view, just closing pubs and restaurants should be enough to decrease the risk of the virus spreading.”
“Extending the ban will also sicken people who have alcoholism problems,” she added. The city has offered free treatment to people suffering from such problems.
Several other countries have instituted bans on alcohol sales, either in selected areas or nationwide, to curb gatherings. They include Barbados, Grenada, Colombia, Mexico, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Greenland.