Starting today, shopping malls and markets in Bangkok and adjacent provinces, except those selling food and essential consumer goods, have been ordered to close for three weeks in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The closures in Bangkok, ordered by Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang, come as the number of Covid-19 infections surged by 89 yesterday, the highest since the first case was reported in January taking the total to 411 infections in the kingdom.
The order sent many city residents rushing to supermarkets to stock up on food and essential items yesterday despite assurances that supermarkets and convenience stores will remain open and restaurants can still offer take-out food.
On March 17, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) ordered eight types of establishments including schools, theatres, massage shops and sports arenas to close for 14 days.
In the latest order, seen by some as a soft lockdown, the closures cover 26 types of business including department stores, barbershops, beauty salons and cosmetic clinics and will be in place until April 12.
Governors of Bangkok's neighbouring provinces, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan and Samut Sakhon, followed suit.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charvirakul yesterday made an emotional plea calling on the public to trust the ministry's effort to control the Covid-19 outbreak and asking for cooperation with social distancing.
"We have prepared everything in terms of medical staff and medical tools. What we need is strong support from the public and confidence in our medical team. They are ready to ensure the safety of all Thais. We must pass through this crisis together. We won't make you disappointed," he said.
Mr Anutin said Bangkok is the largest outbreak hotspot with 80% of patients living in the capital.
He also said the situation will be improved if the spread of the disease can be contained in the capital. Most patients found in other provinces are those who have travelled from Bangkok, he added.
Pol Gen Aswin earlier said the March 17 measure was adopted after warnings from medical experts about a spike in infections if no sweeping actions were taken.
"Closing these establishments will have an economic impact but the people's health is the top priority, and staying home can mitigate the risks of Covid-19," he said.
The governor also suggested that companies should ask employees to work from home while urging city residents to refrain from stockpiling food as restaurants would remain open to offer take-home meals while fresh markets and supermarkets would not close.
However, shortly after that announcement was made, there were reports of people rushing out to stock up on supplies with long queues seen at check-out counters and traffic congestion reported near many superstores.
City Hall spokesman Pongsakorn Kwanmuang yesterday asked social media users to refrain from using the phrasing "closing shopping malls and markets" to avoid panic buying and hoarding of food supplies.
"People can order takeaway food at restaurants. Markets and shopping malls remain open to sell food and essential goods," he said.