Thailand’s Covid Setback

Plans to reopen the economy have stalled once again

By: Murray Hunter

Thailand’s reputation for effective handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is under challenge with a third outbreak on the eve of the April 10-16 Songkran, the country’s new year and its biggest holiday. There were high expectations that the coming April 10-16 Songkran festival would signal the beginning of Thailand’s recovery after year-long restrictions.

This was especially the case when the government revised its economic growth forecast downward from 3.5-4.5 percent to 2.5-3.5 percent after the economy shrank 4.2 percent in the last quarter of 2020. Thailand is in the worst economic slump since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

These hopes have been dashed with the new outbreaks, centered around Bangkok and its suburbs. Although daily new infections remain under 1,000 and total deaths are below 100, it is the trend that is worrying officials. The tourism industry already has an estimated two million unemployed workers. If this outbreak takes hold, massive welfare will be further required at a time when public debt is already well over 50 percent of GDP.

That is not to mention the political consequences for a shaky government already accused of manipulating the most recent election to stay in power and using the courts to put the popular Future Forward opposition party out of business as well as manipulating parliamentary numbers to keep its tenuous majority. Student protests have started to pick up after falling sharply with the onset last year of the coronavirus.

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