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World News

Thailand mulls more restrictions amid second wave of coronavirus

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s government held off from ordering new nationwide business shutdowns on Sunday amid a wave of coronavirus cases but empowered some provincial governors to set their own restrictions and pleaded with the public not to travel.

FILE PHOTO: Migrant workers queue to talk with the public health authorities for a COVID-19 investigation at a fresh market, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bangkok, Thailand, December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa

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 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 Britain, 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 has designated 28 provinces, including Bangkok, as high-risk zones, recommending suspension of some businesses and crowded activities.

Some ministries and agencies have already issued new restrictions.

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 9 pm 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.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, edited by Kay Johnson; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle

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