Experts worry people left penniless by coronavirus lockdowns will be easy prey for trafficking rings and forced labour.
Health authorities in Thailand have recommended tougher restrictions on businesses and people’s movements in 28 provinces, including the capital, Bangkok, as the number of new coronavirus cases rises.
The measures, which need final approval from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, include suspending some businesses and crowded activities that pose infection risks to the public, while recommending people in these provinces work from home and avoid unnecessary travel out of their province.
With the prime minister’s approval, the new measures would start to come into effect on Monday and could be implemented until the end of January, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand’s COVID-19 task force.
Authorities in Bangkok earlier on Saturday ordered the closing down of schools for two weeks and the temporary closure of daycare centres, gyms, bars and massage shops.
Shopping malls, restaurants, beauty salons, swimming pools and public parks remain open with strict social distancing guidelines but some officials have suggested that further restrictions on dine-in eating may be imposed in the capital and other high-risk provinces.
“We expect infection to rise in this area so we must have strong social measures for controlling the spread. There will be closure of some businesses like entertainment venues and restaurants may only allow take-away,” said Kiattiphum Wongraijit, permanent-secretary for the ministry of public health.
But anger resounded across Thai social media on Saturday on the renewed restrictions, with business owners expressing frustration with the partial lockdown.
“I comply with the measures strictly, yet I now need to close my business while there are many people scrambling on the skytrain every day,” wrote Aksika Chantarawinji, a spa owner, on the official Facebook page of Bangkok’s governor.
Thailand’s economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus, and is among the worst-affected in Southeast Asia due to its reliance on tourism and exports.
Thailand on Saturday confirmed 216 new coronavirus cases and one new death.
The country has managed to keep infection rates relatively low since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus disease last year, keeping the number of new cases in the single-digits for months until mid-December.
Now, in a second wave, many cases are linked to a cluster among migrant workers in Samut Sakhon province south of Bangkok. Another cluster is linked to illegal gambling dens in eastern Thailand, both of which started in mid-December.
The country has recorded a total of 7,379 coronavirus cases and 64 deaths since the outbreak started last January.