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In Bangkok, Holiday Alcohol Ban Results In Panic Buying — And No Social Distancing

A Thai woman wearing a face mask purchases cases of beer on Thursday, the night before a citywide alcohol ban in Bangkok. Thai authorities have banned alcohol sales for 11 days in an attempt to stop social gatherings and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Forget toilet paper. What about beer?

Authorities in Bangkok on Thursday banned alcohol sales for 11 days in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus during the Thai New Year, or Songkran, which begins on Monday.

More than half the country's known cases are in the capital city. Authorities in Chiang Mai, Phuket and several other provinces have also called for similar bans.

"The announcement prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages at all shops ... from April 10 to April 20," Bangkok Metropolitan Administration spokesman Pongsakorn Kwanmuang told a news conference. "We ask that all of you cooperate."

As of Friday, Thailand had more than 2,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 33 deaths. Thailand's state of emergency began late last month in an effort to encourage social distancing and slow the spread of the virus.

The abrupt decision to halt alcohol sales in Bangkok came ahead of what's usually a long holiday weekend to mark the beginning of Songkran, a normally booze-soaked, days-long event involving water fights — and absolutely no social distancing. Songkran celebrations have officially been postponed this year in neighboring Cambodia as well.

But the ban on booze seemed especially cruel to some, given the timing. Thailand normally prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. And under the state of emergency, there's a 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew. That meant anyone who wanted to stock up had just a few hours to do so. Which they did.

Unfortunately, in their haste, many seemed to have forgotten the rules about social distancing.

Many people are likely to celebrate privately this Songkran anyway, but if they flout the rules on social distancing — and are caught — they run the risk of being fined, imprisoned or both.

And there may be another upside to the alcohol ban: fewer road fatalities, which usually spike during Songkran, a period known informally as the "seven deadly days" for its high rate of inebriated driving. Thailand has one of the world's highest rates of road fatalities.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.