AGENCIES, Bangkok: Sonagachi, Asia’s largest red-light area, might not have the neon, dazzling lights or the pounding music coming from the numerous clubs and bars like the famous Walking Street in Pattaya, but as the coronavirus pandemic engulfs 181 countries, somehow both these places, which deal in sex trade share a common picture. The picture of desolation, mourning, desperation and fear. Fear of getting out of business and desperation of not getting customers.
Just like the dingy alleys of Sonagachi in Central Kolkata, where sex workers’ business has been terribly hit by COVID-19, here, too, in Thailand, sex workers are out of bars and have moved onto the desolate streets as coronavirus has killed Thailand’s rave party business. And with each passing day, it’s getting only worse. The workers are scared and desperately needs customers to pay for their rent and other essentials.
In fact, approximately 300,000 sex workers are out of their jobs, pushing me to come down onto the streets where the risks of COVID-19 are more than ever. Red-light districts from Bangkok to Pattaya have gone silent with night clubs and massage parlours, which are all over Pattaya (the infamous sex capital of Thailand) closed and tourists blocked from entering the country.
“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.
Thai government has imposed curfew from 10 pm to 4 am, which severely impacted the once-upon-a-time colourful night life of the world’s biggest red-light area. Bars and eat-in restaurants closed several days earlier, so day time prospects have also diminished.
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 and are existing on a hand to mouth basis almost.
The government says it is ready to enforce a 24-hour curfew if necessary to control COVID-19 that has infected more than 2,000 people and killed 20, according to official figures.