PATTAYA, THAILAND (AFP) – People returned to some of Thailand’s famed sandy beaches yesterday, keeping well apart but enjoying the outdoors, as authorities eased some coronavirus restrictions for the first time in more than two months.
In Pattaya, visitors marvelled at the clarity of the turquoise-blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand, as pensioners eager for exercise promenaded along the beach.
Social distancing rules still applied, with local authorities ordering beachgoers to stay at least a metre apart.
German expatriate Heidi Glemeau, one of the first people who took an early morning dip in the water, said she stopped at the sight of the empty, open beach on her way to the bank.
“I couldn’t resist the temptation,” she told AFP. “It’s become a paradise just like it was 30 years ago.”
Not all beaches were closed during the lockdown, and not all re-opened yesterday.
Phuket, in the south, is still off-limits, while sleepy Hua Hin remained open throughout.
Thailand has been under various lockdown restrictions since mid-March, when authorities declared a state of emergency against the coronavirus – shuttering malls, leisure centres and public spaces, including its famed beaches.
Despite recording the first case of the virus outside epicentre China as early as January, official records show the kingdom escaped the worst of the disease relatively lightly, recording just over 3,000 infections and 57 deaths.
Some experts said, however, a lack of testing may mask the true toll.
Regardless, the exodus of foreigners and a ban on new arrivals hit the economy hard – particularly as the country is so reliant on tourist dollars in resorts such as Pattaya.
Tourism revenues dropped by 40 per cent in the first three months of the year, and the government has warned the virus’ impact on the second quarter will be more severe.
A major tourist destination with an infamous nightlife, Pattaya has turned into a virtual ghost town.
Clubs remain shuttered, however, and it is not clear when normal activity will resume.