Thailand downgrades outlook as COVID hampers recovery

PHUKET: International travelers wait for COVID-19 swab tests as part of the “Phuket Sandbox” quarantine-free tourism scheme for vaccinated visitors to the Thai resort destination, at Phuket International Airport in Phuket. – AFP

BANGKOK: Thailand downgraded its economic growth forecast for 2021 yesterday as it battles its worst COVID-19 wave, which has brought record numbers of new infections and deaths. The kingdom last year suffered its worst full-year performance since the Asian financial crisis of 1997 with a 6.1 percent economic contraction.

The Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) had initially given a cool forecast for recovery during the first quarter, estimating growth of 1.5 to 2.5 percent for 2021. But yesterday, NESDC secretary general Danucha Pichayanan announced it had to revise that figure down to between 0.7 and 1.2 percent.

“This crisis caused by the pandemic is unlike the financial crises of 1997 and 2009 — our estimation is based on domestic causes,” he said during a press conference. He added that the new forecast was dependent on the hope that the pandemic’s curve will flatten after the third quarter, enabling a relaxation of restrictions by October.

“But if the pandemic continues and relaxation cannot start in the fourth quarter… the growth could be lower than 0.7 percent,” Danucha said. Thailand’s GDP for the second quarter was up 7.5 percent on the same period last year, the first sign of recovery since the pandemic.

The growth was most visible in agricultural, industrial and exports sectors, while tourism — once Thailand’s cash cow — remained sluggish. The kingdom has gradually re-opened borders to vaccinated travellers via a quarantine-free program in ultra-popular beach island Phuket — drawing more than 34,700 tourists to its sun-soaked shores since the so-called “sandbox” launched on July 1.

But COVID-19 cases there have started to climb. Restrictions were enacted last month on Phuket’s businesses — shuttering pubs, boxing studios and karaoke lounges — while domestic travellers have been barred from entering the island. Authorities said over the weekend the restrictions on entertainment venues in Phuket would continue for another two weeks. Since the start of the pandemic Thailand has recorded 928,314 cases with 7,733 deaths, the bulk of them detected since April. The country has seen more than 20,000 new cases reported daily for nearly a week, crowding its already-hampered healthcare system and filling up its state-run quarantine facilities. – AFP


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