BANGKOK: Thailand's government held off from ordering new nationwide business shutdowns on Sunday (Jan 3) amid a new wave of coronavirus cases but empowered some provincial governors to set their own restrictions and pleaded with the public not to travel.
Thailand, which had largely controlled the virus by mid-2020, saw a second wave of outbreaks beginning in December.
On Sunday, it confirmed 315 new coronavirus cases, the majority of which are from local transmission, bringing its total to 7,694 cases and 64 deaths since its first case last January.
Samut Sakhon, a province south of Bangkok where the current outbreak started, reported 541 additional cases on Sunday. That number will be added to the official tally on Monday, its health official said.
The country also reported its first known case of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7 on Sunday, Yong Poovorawan, a senior virologist from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said in a post on his official Facebook page.
The variant was found in a family of four who were in quarantine after arriving in Thailand from the UK, and Yong said there is no risk of that variant being spread in Thailand.
Opas Karnkawinpong, the director-general of the Department of Disease Control said that Health Ministry has recommended the government to slow all flights from Britain until there is more information about the new strain.
Officials say the current domestic outbreak is linked to illegal border migration from neighbouring Myanmar.
The government COVID-19 taskforce had earlier designated 28 provinces, including Bangkok, as high-risk zones and recommended suspension of some businesses and crowded activities in those areas that pose infection risks to the public.
The measures, which still need final approval from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, will empower provincial governors to suspend businesses and other activities if there is a risk of infection, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand's COVID-19 taskforce said.
"We are asking people for cooperation first. We know that tough measures are needed but that could also lead to losses in other areas so we need to have compromises and have reasonable measures put in place," Taweesin said adding that the government is also concerned about the economic costs of more restrictions.
Some ministries and agencies have already issued new restrictions in their areas.
The Education Ministry has ordered all public and private schools and vocational training centres to close down from Monday until end of January.
The Thai Retailers Association has also announced that all shopping malls around the country should close at 9pm daily, an hour earlier than the usual closing time, a statement said.
Authorities in Bangkok had earlier closed entertainment venues, nurseries, gyms and massage parlours, while keeping open shopping malls, restaurants and public parks.