Thailand curbs shopping mall hours after a COVID-19 daily case record

BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand curbed shop operating hours on Saturday after the country recorded another record daily rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths amid a third wave of the pandemic.

Shopping malls in 18 risky provinces, including in the capital Bangkok, will be restricted to operating between 11am and 8pm for a week from Sunday, the Thai Retailers Association said in a statement.

Restaurants in the malls will be allowed to stay open an hour later, while convenience stores will be permitted to operate from 5am to 10pm.

Schools, bars and massage parlours were shut a week ago and will remain closed until next month, while alcohol sales have been banned in restaurants in an effort to increase social distancing.

Officials reported 2,839 new coronavirus cases and eight new deaths on Saturday, bringing Thailand’s total to 53,022 cases and 129 deaths. The country has managed to keep its caseload far lower than many countries, but the new outbreak, spurred in part by the highly-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, has resulted in 24,000 infections and 35 infections in just 24 days.

“Government agencies and the private sector should allow staff to work from home as much as possible because we don’t want to introduce more strict measures,” said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the government’s COVID-19 taskforce.

The taskforce reassured there were currently enough hospital beds in the country to deal with the outbreak.

The country’s beleaguered vaccine rollout got a boost on Saturday with the arrival of 500,000 doses of China’s Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine. A million more doses are due to arrive in mid May, deputy government spokeswoman Traisulee Traisaranakul said.

Just under 1 million people have been vaccinated in the country of around 66 million.

Officials are largely relying on the anticipated June rollout of the locally-made AstraZeneca vaccine, of which it has ordered 61 million doses.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised to source more vaccines to inoculate 50 million Thais by the end of the year.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Jane Wardell)