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How is Covid-19 impacting Thailand’s medical hub ambitions?

As Thailand begins to gradually ease coronavirus-related restrictions, the government is looking to cement the country’s position as an advanced medical hub in Asia.

Oxford Business Group

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As the coronavirus outbreak added strains to frontline health services and back-end supply chains, Thailand’s Board of Investment announced additional measures in April to accelerate investments in the manufacture of medical equipment, which could have positive implications for the health sector’s broader strategic goals.

From May 3, small retailers, street food vendors, restaurants outside malls, parks and outdoor sports venues have been permitted to reopen as policymakers look to kick-start economic activity that has been curtailed by lockdown measures.

Alcohol sales have resumed for home consumption, while restaurants that have reopened may only serve soft drinks and must ensure that customers are seated at least 1.5 metres apart.

Although some restrictions have been lifted, Thailand has also extended its state of emergency until May 30.

International flights remain suspended and bars, cinemas, department stores and indoor sports facilities are among the popular entertainment attractions that are still closed.

The decision to begin easing the lockdown was prompted by several consecutive days in which new confirmed infections were in the single digits.

As of May 5, Thailand’s cumulative Covid-19 count stood at 2988 cases and 54 deaths.

Upon relaxing measures on May 3, the government said it would closely monitor the situation for two weeks before deciding whether to ease more restrictions or re-impose strict lockdown measures.

Medical hub ambitions

Thailand’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been aided by a robust health care system.

Indeed, Thailand was ranked sixth out of 195 countries in the 2019 Global Health Security Index, calculated by researchers at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and John Hopkins Centre for Health Security.

This meant Thailand was the highest ranked emerging economy and Asian country in the index, which is specifically devised to measure a country’s preparedness for a pandemic.

Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, Thailand was already working to establish itself as the medical hub of Asia.

Guided by Ministry of Public Health’s 2016-25 strategic plan entitled ‘Thailand: A Hub of Wellness and Medical Services’, stakeholders have been working to develop an advanced medical industry ecosystem underpinned by innovation and research and development (R&D).

The strategic plan also aligns with the government’s overarching ‘Thailand 4.0’ strategy, designed to help the country escape the so-called ‘middle-income trap’ through the cultivation of innovative, high-value manufacturing and service industries. 

Already popular as an international health care tourism destination, the push to further develop the country’s medical ecosystem was partly driven by Thailand’s ageing population, which is expected to result in increasing domestic demand for quality health care services.

Thailand ranks second in ASEAN behind Singapore in terms of the percentage of the population aged over 60, and this proportion is expected to increase significantly over the next 50 years.

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