Coronavirus in Thailand: dealing with the 2019-nCoV (COVID-19) outbreak and impact

Praveen Duddu 31st March 2020 (Last Updated September 7th, 2020 12:08)

Thailand was dealing with the third-highest number of confirmed coronavirus infection cases after China and Singapore, within four weeks of reporting its first confirmed case of the COVID-19.

Coronavirus in Thailand: dealing with the 2019-nCoV (COVID-19) outbreak and impact
Thailand was the first country to report coronavirus infection case after China. Credit: Shutterstock.com

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The first novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection in Thailand was reported on 13 January 2020, making it the first country outside China to report such infection.

According to a study by the University of Southampton’s WorldPop team, Thailand topped the high-risk countries from coronavirus.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit Thailand after a weak third quarter for the economy. Thailand’s economic growth slowed down to 2.4% in Q3 2019.

The Thai government has announced a partial lock-down in its measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. It has also taken a number of fiscal and non-fiscal measures to contain the impact on the well being of its people as well as its economy.

Thailand COVID 19 Cases: Confirmed, recoveries and deaths

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Thailand reached 1,651. The country reported first coronavirus death on 01 March.

Thailand COVID 19 cases recorded the highest jump on 19 March. The latest cases are reported from the Lumpini Boxing Stadium, entertainment venues in Bangkok and religious ceremonies apart from a few imported cases.

One of the three new cases reported on 26 February had recently travelled to the Hokkaido region of Japan but initially denied having left the country. The infected person later admitted to having been to the affected region and was given the coronavirus test. He is currently being treated at the B.Care Medical Center in Bangkok.

Evacuations by the Thai government

The Thailand government evacuated 138 Thailand citizens on 04 February from Wuhan, China. The evacuees arrived at the U-Tapao airport aboard a Thai AirAsia. They were checked for symptoms and sanitised upon arrival.

Out of the 138 evacuees, six have been transferred to hospitals upon detecting high temperatures and the rest will be quarantined for a period of 14 days in a naval resort in Sattahip.

Hospitals treating or testing Thailand coronavirus cases

Doctors at the Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok have reportedly succeeded in using a combination of HIV drugs including lopinavir and ritonavir and the antiviral medication oseltamivir to treat Thailand coronavirus cases, as quoted by Reuters.

Recently confirmed cases are being observed and treated at Queen Sirikit Naval Hospital in Sattahip. Other hospitals either testing suspects or creating awareness to the public are Nakhon Pathom and Samitivej hospitals.

Preventive measures by the Thailand government

Thailand raised its travel advisory to level 3 on 23 January 2020, advising to avoid all non-essential travel to China. The country was placed under a state of emergency on 26 March until 30 April. Many regions have been placed under lock-down, borders have been closed and all foreign citizens have been barred from entering the country. The Department of Disease Control (DDC) has also placed health surveillance systems at 28 other airports.

Screening measures have also been placed at all hospitals admitting patients with symptoms of the coronavirus infection including fever, cough, and sneezing. Health educators have been advised to perform screening within the community and alert any cases to the DDC on its hotline number 1422.

The Thailand government denied entry to the MS Westerdam cruise ship, as a precautionary measure, despite no suspected cases reported. The ship with 1,455 passengers and 802 crew on-board was also denied entry by ports in Guam and Manila before being allowed to enter Cambodia on 13 February.

The MotoGP race scheduled to be held in March has been cancelled due to travel restrictions and health concerns related to coronavirus.

The government has announced the cancellation of the Thai New Year celebrations called Songkran. It has also issued an order to close all schools and colleges in the country for two weeks. Entertainment venues, movie theaters and sports venues will also be closed for 14 days as Bangkok coronavirus cases have started to increase.

The island of Phuket has been placed under lock-down from 30 March to contain the spread of coronavirus. Further, all airports in the island are expected to be closed from 10 April to 30 April. The move has prompted more than 60,000 migrant workers from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar to leave the country.

How prepared is Thailand to deal with the epidemic?

A note by the Thailand Embassy stated that Thailand was Asia’s most prepared country in the event of an epidemic, as ranked by Johns Hopkins University, and sixth out of 165 countries globally.

Thailand ranked second in having a robust health system capable of treating the sick and protecting healthcare workers. It was ranked third in the prevention of the emergence or release of pathogens.

Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health launched the ‘Big Cleaning Week’ on 04 February to make the general public aware of personal hygiene practices at the workplace, home, and public places. Hotel operators have been advised to monitor the health of tourists for coronavirus symptoms.

Thailand coronavirus outbreak: Impact and measures

China being the biggest exporter of goods to Thailand, a negative impact on trade is imminent. China accounts for approximately 20% of Thailand’s imports. Thailand’s exports to China are feared to come down by $65m approximately, according to the Thai National Shippers’ Council as reported by Reuters.

Thailand already saw a weak Q2 2019, during which the exports fell by 7.9%, while Q3 was no different. The services sector offset the slow down caused by the manufacturing sector, but may not rescue the economy in Q1 2020.

Here’s a snapshot of Thailand’s trade:

Industries that are expected to be hit by the coronavirus outbreak in Thailand are tourism, aviation, shipping, and hospitality (including hotels and restaurants).

Thailand is estimated to lose $1.15bn in revenues from tourism in Q1 2020 due to fall in Chinese air travellers alone, according to estimates by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The impact could be deeper considering a steep fall in visitors from rest of the world.

Bank of Thailand estimates that the economy may contract by 5.3% in 2020, revising its earlier estimate of 2.8%.

The list of flight cancellations to multiple countries by flag carrier Thai Airways has increased ever since the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. The airline has acknowledged that coronavirus has an adverse impact on its business.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has approved plans by various airlines to scale back or completely stop flights. These airlines include Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia, Thai AirAsia X, Thai Lion Air, Nok Air, Nok Scoot and Thai Vietjet Air. The airlines hope to resume flights by mid-April or by early May.

Fiscal measures to contain the coronavirus impact

Thailand took immediate fiscal measures to reduce the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The government approved two stimulus packages including 400 billion baht ($12.7bn) to benefit 14.6 million low-income earners. The package includes the provision of soft loans worth 150 billion baht ($4.58bn) lent at an interest rate of 0.01%. The package also includes extension on debt payments.

The second stimulus package worth 117 billion baht ($3.6bn) included cash handouts worth 45 billion baht ($1.38bn) to three million workers as well as soft loans worth 60 billion baht ($1.83bn).

Philippines is also planning to announce a third stimulus package worth 500 billion baht ($15.3bn).

The Thai Secretary of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) announced its decision to reduce the policy rate by 0.25% from 1.25% to 1%. The decision was taken following an assessment of the Thailand economy, which is expected to witness a slower growth rate in 2020 owing to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the delay in the enactment of the Annual Budget Expenditure Act.

The MPC noted that the financial stability of the country was vulnerable and more accommodative monetary policies would help in alleviating the negative impact caused by the outbreak. It recommended that liquidity provision and debt restructuring will help the businesses and households impacted and hence recommended the policy rate cut.

Non-fiscal measures: Minimising the impact on tourism

Tourism is a crucial sector for Thailand accounting for 12% of the country’s GDP. Chinese tourists account for the majority of the tourist population. The services sector alone accounts for approximately one-tenth of Thailand’s GDP.

Health concerns over coronavirus in Thailand have led to a decline in the number of tourists arriving in the country. The Thai Tourism Ministry estimates that the coronavirus impact could result in a revenue loss of 50 billion baht ($1.52bn) for the tourism industry, as quoted by Reuters.

Thai Hotels Association (THA) estimates that more than 30,000 hotels are expected to lose all revenue in April. Hoteliers in Phuket are expected to post the highest losses due to the lock-down. Pattaya is one of the worst affected tourist spots in the country, as its economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism.

The government is also taking preventive measures such as:

  • Placing screening systems at popular tourist spots such as Asiatique The Riverfront
  • Advising visitors to wear masks
  • Providing alcohol-based sanitisers and masks at attractions such as Siam Niramit
  • Performing additional cleaning and disinfection across public transportation

Thai authorities are also considering to limit export of surgical masks to avoid shortage in the country, the demand for which has been surging since the epidemic’s outbreak. Thailand exports approximately 400 million masks a year.

Coronavirus Thailand: Issue of health cards to travellers

TAT is also issuing Health Beware Cards to travellers arriving in Thailand, which can be shown to doctors in case of feeling symptoms such as fever, cough and breathing difficulties within 14 days of arriving in Thailand.