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Sluggish vaccine campaign threatens Thailand’s economic recovery

The latest baseline scenario issued by the bank of Thailand predicts a GDP growth of 2%, assuming that vaccine procurement and distribution reaches 100 million doses this year and leads to herd immunity in the first quarter of 2022.

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The Bank of Thailand (BoT) slashed again Thailand’s economic growth forecast for 2021 for the second time this year targeting a mere 1 to 2% growth, depending mainly on the procurement and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

The central bank’s previous estimate of GDP’s growth was set at 3% before the beginning of the third wave of Covid-19 in April, but it now includes three different scenarios targeting between 1 and 2% growth depending on the country’s vaccination drive.

The Thai economy would expand at a much lower rate due to the third wave of the outbreak which affected domestic spending. In addition, the recovery of foreign tourist figures would be affected by the longer-than-expected delay in the re-opening of the country and the uncertain international travel restriction measures. 

Bank of Thailand press release MAY 5, 2021

For the base scenario, the bank predicts a GDP growth of 2%, assuming that vaccine procurement and distribution reaches 100 million doses this year and leads to herd immunity in the first quarter of 2022.

Worst case scenario could drag down Thailand’s growth to 1%

But if the vaccine rollout sinks down to only 60+ millions, than Thailand’s growth could tank to only 1%, leaving the country with less than a million tourist.

Last week the Finance Ministry has also reduced its 2021 economic growth forecast for a second time to 2.3% from 2.8% growth, after a third wave of coronavirus infections struck Thailand this month, slashing its forecast for the number of foreign tourists to only 2 million this year from 5 million it had predicted three months ago.

Business leaders are now openly criticising Thailand’s slow pace in vaccination compared with its Southeast Asian neighbours. A recent assessment by The Economist placed Thailand 124th out of 154 countries in the percentage of adults who had received the first dose of a vaccine.

William Heinecke, founder and chairman of Minor International, a major hotel and restaurant operator in Thailand said “We will lose tourism trade to Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore because they have more efficient vaccination programs.” according to a Nikkei report.

Thailand is now lagging behind many countries in vaccine procurement, including most of ASEAN.

“The Thai government has no excuses as other countries have bet on many vaccine brands and are now proving they can manage risks much better than Thailand,”

Pipat Luengnaruemitchai, chief economist at Kiatnakin Phatra Securities

“This suggests the government has failed in crisis management by depending too much on one vaccine brand, AstraZeneca, and one production plant in Thailand,” said Pipat Luengnaruemitchai, chief economist at Kiatnakin Phatra Securities to ThaiPBS.

This view is now increasingly shared by many other personalities in Thailand, like Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, former leader of disbanded Future Forward Party, who was charged with lese-majesté when he openly criticized the government over vaccine supplies on his Facebook account.

Social media up in arms

 As Thailand struggles to contain a third wave of the pandemic, discontent is now getting bolder on social media: a group called Mor Mai Thon (“Doctors won’t tolerate this”) has started an online campaign demanding the dismissal of Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul , leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, a key member of the ruling coalition.

The hashtag #ย้ายประเทศกันเถอะ (Let’s move countries) trended on Twitter and other social media to point out how Thailand has been surpassed by regional neighbours in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Thai Facebook page “Move, Let’s Move Our Hips” โยกย้ายมาส่ายสะโพกโยกย้าย (renamed from “Let’s Emigrate” #ย้ายประเทศกันเถอะ) has already reached 1 million membership, giving advice to young Thais who wish to leave and work abroad.

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As much of the Asia-Pacific region is gearing up for a 2022 reopening and recovery, Thailand is now lagging behind many countries in vaccine procurement and sluggish vaccine campaign threatens the country’s economic recovery.

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