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Thais shut entertainment venues

Amid virus surge, stores reopen in recession-hit Greece by The Associated Press | April 6, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

BANGKOK -- Officials in Thailand's capital on Monday ordered a two-week closure of all entertainment venues in three districts to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus from nightspots there.

Health officials are also trying to cope with a coronavirus outbreak at a prison in the south.

Apisamai Srirangsan, a spokesperson for the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said 194 new coronavirus cases nationwide had been confirmed, most from Bangkok entertainment venues and from Narathiwat prison. Thailand has had 29,321 confirmed cases, including 95 deaths.

The center had already ordered affected nightspots closed until they undergo deep cleaning. Entertainment venues in the districts of Klong Toey, Bang Khae and Wattana -- the latter with upmarket bars and bistros in the Ekkamai and Thong Lor neighborhoods -- must close from April 6 to 19.

Bangkok's city government has announced the names of the venues involved and urged people who patronized them over the past month to be tested for covid-19.

The outbreaks come just ahead of the major holiday of Songkran in mid-April, which usually sees an exodus of people from cities to visit relatives in other provinces and is generally celebrated over an entire week. The official holiday was postponed last year because it came right after Thailand's first wave of the virus.

The possibility of a new upsurge in covid-19 cases comes as the government is trying to finalize plans to gradually reopen the country to foreign tourists.

Thailand had appeared to be recovering from a covid-19 wave that originated late last year in a province near Bangkok where thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, were infected.

Also in Bangkok, several international schools decided to suspend in-person classes for several days after at least one school reported a coronavirus case.

In Narathiwat province, the Corrections Department announced a one-month ban on prison visits beginning Monday after 120 inmates and officials at the provincial prison were infected.

Last month, a detention center in Bangkok for undocumented immigrants reported 395 cases.

GREEK STORES REOPEN

Meanwhile, retail stores across most of Greece were allowed to reopen Monday despite an ongoing surge in covid-19 infections, as the country battles to emerge from deep recession.

Stores in greater Athens opened for pickup services only but remain closed in Greece's second- and third-largest cities, Thessaloniki and Patras, because of fears of a more serious spike in infections.

Lockdown measures have been in force since early November, although shops opened briefly around the Christmas holiday season. The prolonged closures piled pressure on the economy.

Greek economic output shrank by 8.2% in 2020 while the national debt as a percentage of gross domestic product shot over 200%.

About 16% of the country's residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccination but infection rates continue to rise.

"Opening retail businesses ... will provide a decompression valve for our society and will help improve the implementation of [restrictive] measures," government spokeswoman Aristoltelia Peloni said.

The center-right government has pinned its reopening policy on the mass distribution of test kits that will be provided for free on a weekly basis to help reopen schools, expected later this month, and the country's vital tourism industry in mid-May.

In Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, protesting store owners hung black banners outside business entrances, angry that they weren't allowed to reopen. Others opened their stores but didn't serve customers, in an act of defiance. The head of the city's chamber of commerce, Michalis Zorpidis, said that it was taking the government to the country's highest administrative court.

The daily number of confirmed infections nationwide reached the highest rate since the start of the pandemic in Greece at 28.5 per 100,000 residents as a seven-day rolling average. The death rate is currently above the European Union average with the cumulative total at more than 8,400.

Information for this article was contributed by Derek Gatopoulos and Costas Kantouris of The Associated Press.

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