World

Shutdown leaves 300,000 sex workers in Thailand jobless

BANGKOK: A shutdown to contain the coronavirus has killed Thailand's party scene and forced sex workers like Pim out of bars and onto desolate streets.

She's scared but desperately needs customers to pay her rent.

Red-light districts from Bangkok to Pattaya have gone quiet, with night clubs and massage parlours closed and tourists blocked from entering the country.

That has left an estimated 300,000 sex workers out of a job, pressing some onto the streets, where the risks are sharpened by the pandemic.

"I'm afraid of the virus but I need to find customers so I can pay for my room and food," Pim, a 32-year-old transgender sex worker, told AFP in an area of Bangkok where previously bawdy neon-lit bars and brothels have gone dark.

Thailand reported 102 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths, the country's public health ministry said yesterday.

The latest numbers raised the total to 2,169 cases.

Twenty-three people have died in Thailand since the outbreak began in January.

Since Friday, Thais have been under a 10pm to 4am curfew. Bars and eat-in restaurants closed several days earlier.

Many of Bangkok's sex workers had jobs in the relative safety of bars, working for tips and willing to go home with customers.

When their workplaces suddenly closed, most returned home to wait out the crisis.

Others like Pim went to work the streets.

Pim is paying a heavy price for the movement restrictions - she has not had a customer for 10 days and the bills are stacking up.

GO-GO BAR

Her friend Alice, another transgender sex worker, has also been forced to move from a go-go bar to the roadside.

"I used to make decent money, sometimes US$300 to US$600 (S$431 to S$862) a week," Alice said.

"But when businesses shut down, my income stopped too. We are doing this because we're poor. If we can't pay our hotel they will kick us out."

There are concerns that a Thai government emergency scheme to give 5,000 baht (S$217) to millions of newly jobless over the next three months will exclude sex workers because they cannot prove formal employment.

The Empower Foundation, an advocacy group for the kingdom's sex workers, said entertainment venues make around US$6.4 billion a year, many of them selling sex in some form.

Elsewhere in the region, the Philippine health ministry reported eight more deaths and 152 newly confirmed cases yesterday. The positive cases there totalled 3,246, while the death toll has risen to 152, said a daily bulletin.

WORLD