With the pandemic hurting all citizens, now is the time for the government to act on its unity message by lifting the boot from the throats of Thailand’s small brewers, a spirited rally called for this morning.
Members and supporters of the Craft Beer Association gathered at the COVID-19 task force offices at the Interior Ministry in Bangkok to demand the authorities drop the ban on advertising, expand selling hours and allow bars to reopen.
A COVID-19 task force representative received their petition, and said that the requests would be reviewed and taken into consideration – something those gathered said they expected.
“It’s always like this, ‘urgent, very urgent, maximum urgency,’ but it ends up being a long process in the end. They never give an exact timeline,” said Thanakorn “Benz” Tuamsa-ngiam, founder of the Prachachon Beer (Beer People) community.
At 1pm over at the City Hall, the group was joined by more business allies including bar owners, importers, bartenders and musicians at City Hall to demand the same relief measures.
The rally saw participants raising protest signs such as, “Don’t scapegoat alcohol” and “Why can 7-Eleven open 24 hours, but bars can’t at all?” The latter attacks the convenience store chain owned by conglomerate giant Charoen Pokphand that has been excluded from the lockdown measures.
The group suggested that, to curb COVID-19 infections, officials should allow bars to reopen and restaurants to be able to serve alcohol so long as patrons practice social distancing, don’t share glasses and don’t stand up to dance.
The government’s anti-alcohol and pro-monopoly zeal has led to complaints that small businesses – whether bars ordered closed or craft brewers fined for advertising – are unable to compete under laws that favor the largest monopolists.
“It’s like a domino effect,” said Thanakhom Muandej, general manager of distribution company Bootleggers Trading. With over 300 bar partners nationwide, Thanakhom said, his business has been suffering for almost a full year since the pandemic hit, and just saw its peak season of New Year’s get tanked.
Thanakhom said the industry is a convenient scapegoat, and that the authorities have an “understanding” that puts the blame on their businesses for the spread of the virus – a stigma that needs to be removed before any measures can efficiently take place.
A City Hall representative said the office would review the group’s demands on Tuesday without offering any further comment.
Another core member of the Craft Beer Association, Prapavee Hemmatat, said the group would leverage the movement’s current support to the fullest extent possible, as they “can no longer survive” by reopening as cafes or selling food online.
The cabinet may approve allowing restaurants to stay open as soon as Tuesday; alcohol will remain off the menu for now, after a ban on sales was put in place at the start of the year.