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Thailand’s COVID-19 response: an example of resilience and solidarity

Gita Sabharwal, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand, explains COVID-19 response success in the country thanks to a combination of government action, social responsibility and community solidarity.

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In January, Thailand became the second country to confirm a COVID-19 case but, since then, the country has shown remarkable resilience and, as of late July, there had not been any recorded cases of domestic transmission for nearly two months.

Gita Sabharwal, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand, explains that this success is thanks to a combination of government action, social responsibility and community solidarity. 

Thailand’s overall response, and ability to curb infections, has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to identify Thailand, alongside New Zealand, as a success story in dealing with the pandemic.

Of course, that success entirely depends on continued vigilance, a whole-of-society approach, and ramped up testing to prevent a second wave as borders open and full economic activities are resumed. 

The economic impact of the pandemic has been serious, with predictions of an 8.1 per cent contraction of the economy in 2020. According to a recent survey, 65 per cent of people in Thailand report that their incomes are totally or very inadequate under pandemic conditions, with almost the same percentage saying that their finances had been adversely affected. 

Having started in my position just one week before the lockdown, my view of Thailand has been very COVID-centric.

We have all personally felt the effects of the pandemic in many different ways and a large number of UN staff in Thailand have been apart from their families for months due to travel restrictions – my own family reunification was postponed for the first half of the year, and I hope to see my husband next month for the first time since the outbreak.

At the same time, we are profoundly aware that vulnerable communities are bearing the brunt of this crisis, making our advocacy and work with partners all the more important.

As the Resident Coordinator, my focus has been on working closely with the UN Country Team to develop the UN’s comprehensive response strategy to the pandemic and positioning it to be cutting edge, forward leaning, and offering thought leadership to sustain development gains and build back better. 

Cash handouts and loans

The Royal Thai Government’s contribution to the UN’s COVID-19 Fund speaks to this shared responsibility. Similarly, the role played by the 1 million health volunteers, two-thirds of whom are women, in contact tracing across the country speaks to the whole of society approach.

The government’s stimulus packages have been comprehensive, rapid and well-sequenced, constituting 15 per cent of GDP. Almost half of respondents to a recent survey reported having received government support. Modelling estimates suggest that while government expenditure is emerging as the most effective means to support growth and employment, cash handouts followed by soft loans are the next best measures. In partnership with the National Economic and Social Development Council, the national economic planning agency of Thailand, UN Thailand will monitor the impact of these fiscal stimulus packages targeted at local economies to inform government programming.

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