Thailand Ends Mask Mandate, Lifts Curbs on Nightlife Venues

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(Bloomberg) -- Thailand scrapped a mask mandate and allowed bars and pubs to remain open for longer hours as the Southeast Asian nation rolls back its remaining Covid-19 curbs amid a decline in new cases and a rebound in tourist arrivals.

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The wearing of masks is now voluntary nationwide, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said in a statement published on Royal Gazette late Thursday, ending a mandate first imposed in June 2021. People with chronic diseases should continue to wear masks during group activities to prevent infections, he said.

Pubs, bars, karaoke outlets and other entertainment venues can return to their normal operating hours, according to the statement. The nightlife venues in the country’s main tourist destinations were allowed to reopen earlier this month but ordered to shut at midnight.

Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy has accelerated the easing of curbs on travel and businesses in recent months after new Covid cases fell to around 2,000 a day from more than 20,000 in April. The relaxation comes as tourism-dependent economies are increasingly competing to woo back travelers.

“Through our strict health measures, the infections and deaths from Covid-19 have declined significantly, allowing the government to ease a number of measures and restrictions,” Prayuth said. “We hope that further relaxations will help people and businesses” to live their lives and carry out economic activities as close to normal as possible, he said.

Before the pandemic, the overall tourism-related sector accounted for about a fifth of Thailand’s economy and jobs, with nearly 40 million overseas visitors arriving in 2019, according to the central bank.

Shares of airlines and hotels gained in Bangkok trading on Friday. Asia Aviation Pcl, which controls the nation’s largest budget carrier, rose as much as 1.4% while Asia Hotel Pcl jumped as much as 5.8% and S Hotels & Resorts Pcl advanced 3.2%.

Restaurants and eateries are allowed to serve dine-in customers alcoholic beverages in accordance with the applicable laws and communicable disease control guidelines, the Tourism Authority of Thailand said in a statement. While group gatherings are allowed, organizers of events with more than 2,000 participants will require advance permission from local authorities, it said.

Thailand has seen foreign tourist arrivals gather momentum in recent months with the total number of visitors jumping to more than 1.6 million so far this year, almost quadrupling from 427,869 arrivals in 2021, official data show.

(Updates with share moves, details of easing from seventh paragraph.)

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