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Thai capital to lift more restrictions against virus spread

Some restrictions to protect against the spread of COVID-19 will be lifted in the Thai capital of Bangkok beginning early next week, the country's prime minister announced Sunday.

Enterprises allowed to reopen Monday are museums and historical sites, parks and botanical gardens, beauty parlors, nail salons, massage parlors — but only for foot massages — and tattoo parlors, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Saturday on his Facebook page.

Thailand is contending with a third wave of the coronavirus that began in April, and which has accounted for more than 80% of the country's total 193,105 confirmed cases and 90% of 1,431 related deaths.

Bangkok officials sought to reopen such establishments earlier, but had been turned down by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, the national agency coordinating the response to the virus.

Prayuth said the restrictions were being lifted because the virus is spreading at a controllable level and many Bangkok residents have gotten vaccinated, especially in the sectors being reopened. However, health authorities on Saturday announced 3,277 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, the first time the daily figure climbed above 3,000 since June 3, when 3,886 cases were reported.

Thailand began a mass vaccination program on June 7 after Prayuth's government came under heavy criticism for failing to secure timely and sufficient vaccine supplies. The nationwide mass vaccinations were launched as local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine began to supplement supplies of Sinovac vaccine imported from China. Prayuth’s government says it is negotiating deals to buy other vaccines, including those from Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson.

Prayuth in his Facebook post also said the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration and the Cabinet would still have to give final approval for the southern resort island of Phuket to allow visits by vaccinated foreigners without quarantining them on arrival, which is otherwise set to begin on July 1.

The plan, which would keep visitors from low-risk countries isolated in a section of the island for 14 days until they could go elsewhere in Thailand, is known as the Phuket sandbox. It is considered to be a major step toward reviving the country’s large but battered tourism industry and would serve as a model for other popular tourist destinations.

Before the pandemic, Phuket was the country’s second-most popular destination after Bangkok. In 2019, it welcomed around 10 million foreign tourists and generated 470 billion baht ($15 billion) in revenue.

According to the Phuket Hotel Association, more than 50,000 employees in its hospitality sector lost their jobs last year.

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