The posts were shared on the ‘Phuket Info Center’ Facebook page, which is branded as the “Phuket Sandbox Official Phuket Information Center”, on Tuesday (Aug 17). The images and messages were originally posted by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, known by its Thai initials SorSorSor, operated under the Ministry of Public Health.
The SorSorSor is also well known as the home of the Thai Anti-Alcohol campaign. At least their agenda is clear. National health officials could at least be as honest. To be clear, the mandate to close all bars and other entertainment venues throughout the country originally came from the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in Bangkok after the cluster outbreak at night venues in the Ekkamai and Thong Lor areas in the capital. To that end there is supposed to be nothing that Phuket provincial officials can do about it.
That said, Phuket Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong last Saturday in explaining the COVID-prevention measures being extended – again, this time until the end of the month – did admit, “Even though the Communicable Disease Committee discussed the possibility of lifting the ban of alcohol consumption in restaurants, we did not agree to lift the measure.” So there is some wiggle room for local officials to handle the ban as they see fit.
Vice Governor Piyapong, one of the few Phuket provincial officials outstanding for making himself available for clarifying the many and oblique COVID rules being enforced across the island, did make it clear that the ban on restaurants in Phuket from having any alcohol consumed on premises specifically included restaurants at hotels. That means any tourists wanting to come to Phuket, or Thailand for that matter, are being forced to endure at least a two-week ban on enjoying a drink outside of their hotel room while on holiday. So say the rules. They cannot even enjoy a single glass of wine with their dinner at a restaurant while watching the sun set over the Andaman Sea, as tourism promotion campaigns are at pains to highlight.
If national officials want to ban alcohol outright and make Thailand a ‘dry’ country, they should step up and do that – and then see what happens to their tourism industry. But they haven’t got the testicular fortitude for that because they know of the consequences.
As always, it is the law-abiding citizen that is being punished. The reality is that there are many venues across Phuket are serving alcohol. Whether or not they are being punished for it depends on the “flexibility” of local law enforcement.
Dragging tourists into this mess feels like nothing more than a Burmese tiger trap, especially while officials are threatening foreigners caught breaking the COVID prevention measures with deportation and even a possible ban on re-entering the country. We can’t wait until the Russians get here and find out what rules are currently in effect.
The COVID-prevention measures for restaurants and other venues of social gathering have been clearly laid out since last year. Groups of no more than four people at one sitting, with no less than two metres of space between groups, and no less than one metre personal protective space between each individual. No communal vessels for serving beverages are allowed and touch contact surfaces are to be sanitised regularly, as often as appropriately needed.
If these are the rules that are being broken, then these are the charges that should be levied against the perpetrators. Drinkers who adhere to the now decades-old motto “Drink responsibly” are not criminals, and should not be treated as such.