COVID-19 in Thailand: Current Situation, Government Responses and Way Forward
By Dr. Suthikorn Kingkaew | May 23 2020, 7:50 PM SGT
Thailand is one of the countries that has been successful in handling the COVID-19 pandemic with the confirmed cumulative cases at 3,040 (with 2,916 recovered) and 56 deaths as of 23 May 2020. It is also worth mentioning that daily single-digit cases have been reported since 3 May, with no single case reported on 13 and 16 May and 3 on 23 May 2020. Thailand’s success can be traced back to Thai people’s cooperation, public health system efficiency and strict policy measures such as closure of some businesses, strict curfews and domestic and international travel bans.
To slow the spread of the virus, many firms either halted their operations temporarily or let their employees work from home. Tourism and aviation sector income decreased significantly because of the travel ban that has been imposed by the Thai government during April and May 2020. Domestic consumption and retail sectors were also badly affected since people movement was controlled and people have less willingness or consumption power to spend on unnecessary items. On the other hand, Thailand’s inflation rate in March 2020 was -0.54% in spite of temporary price hike or shortages in some items such as facemasks and eggs. This is largely due to decreasing oil price and less demand.
Thailand has implemented a multitude of policies and initiatives to manage the impact of the pandemic and enable firms to operate their businesses without hassle as much as possible. This includes:
Social distancing and public health
As of now, the government started to ease its restriction by allowing more businesses such as restaurants and cafes, hair salons and barber shops and markets to operate again on 17 May 2020. More easing policy is expected to be announced if the number of cases do not increase. However, the Thai government still encourages people to strictly comply with social distancing measures and the international travel ban is still in force. Also, active case findings are still going on to detect more possible cases. And some provinces still enforce travel ban and institute some additional restriction in the area.
Financial and fiscal measures
For financial and fiscal measures, the government has introduced a number of policies to relieve the economic pain of people and businesses especially small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) who are in vulnerable sectors. The policies and measures include:
- Providing 1 trillion Baht loan to respond with the pandemic for affected workers, healthcare-related expenditure and economic and social rehabilitation;
- Tax measures such as extensions of the corporate income tax return filing deadline;
- Draft tax relief measures for SMEs, reduction of withholding tax rates;
- Finance Ministry plans to offer special savings bonds worth 50 billion baht to the public;
- Financial aid (THB 5,000 per person per month for 3 months) , affected people can register at เราไม่ทิ้งกัน.com.
Thailand has introduced many technologies to assist medical workers and government officers such as
- Medicine robot
- Tracking and tracing application
- Internet broadband package for people who work from home or study remotely
- Application “Thai Chana” (translates to “Thai-win”) that facilitates the collection of visitor records in shops
The new normal in Thailand will emerge in every aspect of people’s lives in response to the current pandemic. While the economy will be strongly affected negatively in the short term, it is likely that in the long-run, Thailand will have a new strategic position and competitive advantage inon the global stage. At the micro-level, it is anticipated that Thai businesses and people will adapt to the new normal and use new strategies and technologies to survive.
Thailand’s GDP performance is forecasted by IMF to contract 6.7% in 2020, making it the worst performer in the region since Thailand relies mostly on external sectors such as international tourism, services and exports. However, the situation may be more optimistic if a vaccine is found and free movement of travelers are allowed in the latter half of the year. Simultaneously, export is expected to contract 8.8% due to global supply chain disruption, reducing petroleum price and decreasing global demand. It is also expected that government spending and investment will be the main powerhouse for Thailand’s economy after the crisis since the government prepares to spend 2.8 % of the country’s GDP in financial aid and rehabilitation projects and 1.5% of the country’s GDP in tax relief for individuals and firms.
New normal in Thailand
Consistent with the global trend, Thailand will experience a post-pandemic new normal both at the individual level and firm level.
Many businesses will shift their priority from efficiency to resilience and adaptation to crisis, especially their supply chain strategy. Technology will become a vital tool for businesses to survive. Marketing wise, businesses will connect and communicate with customers more through online channels. For the retail industry, the landscape will considerably change since retailers have to abide by the government’s social distancing policy, and omnichannel strategies (such as click-and-collect) will be deployed in line with their physical stores. Also, the competition will be more intense due to less global and domestic demand and lower purchasing power among consumers. Some businessmen expect that it will take 1-2 years for businesses and the economy to fully recover.
Regarding types of business, online businesses such as e-commerce or delivery platform will rise significantly since consumers will avoid physical contact or going out. Some businesses that provide face-to-face service such as salon stores or restaurants may have to downsize or expect less income due to government restrictions.
Individuals’ behaviors will also change remarkably after the crisis. Many consumers will get used to online business and services. They will also save more money to spend on rainy days. People’s priority will also shift to safety and wellbeing – both physical and mental – since they realize the importance of being healthy during the crisis. More people will observe hygiene and social distancing when commuting or interacting with other people.
After the crisis, Thailand may head towards some promising industries that have proved competitive and profitable during the crisis. Some potential industries are:
- Medical hub: Thailand has proved itself to be competitive in the medical industry during the pandemic. The death rate due to the virus in Thailand (1.85%) is significantly lower than the global average (15%). Its healthcare service is excellent and has a good reputation globally. Therefore, the medical industry will be supported and upgraded to the global level after the pandemic.
- Food industry: Due to supply chain disruptions preventing food trade around the world and potentially resulting in food shortages in some countries, Thailand’s food industry is anticipated to gain more revenue after the crisis when global demand rises especially in the countries that are strongly affected by the pandemic and could not produce food during that period.
- Travel industry: As the travel industry is one of the backbones of the Thai economy, the industry and relevant organizations are trying to recover the industry as soon as possible by enhancing tourism infrastructure and promoting tourism marketing among international and domestic travelers. However, the industry has to strike the right balance between its revenue and public health safety.
Image credits: Domepitipat/iStock