BANGKOK: The Immigration Bureau opened new offices in Muang Thong Thani on the outskirts of Bangkok, this week, to cater to more foreigners seeking extensions and to provide for greater social distancing. It comes as immigration offices throughout the country have seen large numbers of foreign tourists extending their stay in Thailand under new rules. This weekend, the UK Embassy in Bangkok appealed to its nationals to only submit a request once as staff work round the clock to process letters required by immigration officers.

Thailand announced 111 more infections and 1 more death on Saturday. It comes as unemployed workers and small business people throughout the kingdom scramble to adapt after many saw their livelihoods closed down this week to fight the virus. Banks in Thailand were closed over the weekend as the government urged those seeking state support payments to use online websites to register their details to prevent the spread of the virus at this time. Reports on Saturday suggested that the government website for informal workers was experiencing difficulties which were then resolved.

On Saturday at 6 pm, millions of self-employed Thai people took to the internet to register for ฿5,000 baht payouts each month for the next 3 months in Thailand. Another scheme for workers paying social insurance in Thailand also began this week. Thailand’s banks closed on Saturday and Sunday following large queues seen on Friday which pose a danger to the public at this time. Initially, on Saturday, the government website experienced problems but it was soon resolved after the director of the Fiscal Policy Office, Lavaron Saengsanit, urged patience.

Thailand reported a further 109 Covid 19 infections on Saturday and one more death. This was a 55-year-old Thai woman who had diabetes.

Authorities in the kingdom are warning that the over 70s and those with heart conditions or diabetes are the most vulnerable to this disease.

Latest infections announced by Covid 19 administration centre bring total to 1,245 cases

The announcement as made by Dr Taweesin Wisanuyothin on behalf of the Covid 19 Administration Centre now directing the kingdom’s affairs at this time of emergency.

This brings the total number of infections in Thailand to 1,245 across 57 provinces. 41.36% of the infections are in Bangkok with a further 4.65% in Nonthaburi which is adjacent to the Thai capital city. The other hotspot for infections so far is Phuket with 42 infections or 3.37% of the total.

The total number of deaths so far from the virus now stands at 6.

If infections are at or under 2,000 in the coming days, it will be a sign of controls working say experts

In recent days, General Pornpipat Benyasri, who is the security chief of the emergency centre, told the public that if the number of infections in the coming week can be kept below 2,000 and if people cooperate with authorities, then a 24-hour curfew or lockdown may be avoided.

Large crowds at banks throughout the country on Friday defies social distancing rules

On Friday, there were heightened concerns at major bank branches throughout the kingdom.

This was due to large crowds as large queues formed at the retail banking outlets seeking access to a ฿5,000 per month payout being made available to informal Thai workers and self-employed outside the social security system.

It is estimated that up to 3 million people in Thailand may be eligible for these payments.

Late on Friday, all the major banks including state-owned and commercial institutions, advised that their bank branches would not open on Saturday or Sunday.

They will reopen on Monday, March 30th.

Public being directed to register for payments online

In the meantime, the public is being encouraged to register for state payments online and nominate their bank accounts for payment without visiting bank branches.

Some innovative institutions, such as Kasikorn Bank, are making available applications to quickly open and nominate accounts to receive the state financial support at the same time.

Complications for users working online

However, complications are to be expected, given experiences in the past week, which saw a temporary shutdown of the online banking system of Bangkok Bank on Wednesday which lasted for a very short time.

It is not uncommon in Thailand for issues to arise using government websites which have been placed under huge loads in recent times with popular public programmes.

This was expected to be the case for those registering for payments on Saturday.

The website went live on Saturday at 6 pm. Just minutes afterwards, it was reported that the government’s website was having difficulties. 

Problem soon resolved even though the Ministry asked for patience from the public for 24 hours

At the outset of the difficulties, Mr Chakkrit Parapuntakul, the Director of the Fiscal Policy Office, Lavaron Saengsanit, urged patience.

‘I believe that the system is unstable due to the reason people come in to register. The Ministry of Finance has clarified that the said measures are not the same as the Shoppers Shop project. Which was on a first-come, first-serve, basis. These measures are based on the qualifications of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, and registration is not limited to 24 hours. Therefore, please ask Thais to understand. There is no need to rush to register within one day.’

However, the problems were soon resolved and the site then appeared to be fully working.

Pressure on authorities to make things work online

Given the impetus of the government’s determined push for social distancing and the medical necessity for this, the management of such vital economic support systems now poses an additional headache for authorities.

As they anxiously try to reduce human to human contact in the kingdom to defeat the virus, the internet and technology have emerged as vital, perhaps life saving tools.

Millions turned out of work this week

The need among the public, however, is pressing.

Last week’s closure orders have left millions of Thais out of work with a large segment of these devoid of cash reserves or means of short term survival.

A scheme to support workers employed formally and paying social security in Thailand, however, seems to have gone smoothly so far with workers able to register for payments online this week without difficulty.

UK Embassy asks its nationals to be patient

On Saturday also, the British Embassy issued a request to UK tourists in Thailand seeking an extension of their visas from Thailand’s immigration office. 

This requires a letter from the embassy.

Staff at the UK embassy earlier this week gave out a special dedicated email for his purpose which is so that UK nationals can organise these letters. 

However, the embassy is now asking for the cooperation of such applicants in only requesting the letter once.

They say repeated requests and queries are slowing their progress as they work through a large backlog.

Such is the demand and the number of visa overstayers in Thailand during this virus emergency from western countries.

New immigration offices this week in Muang Thong Thani near Bangkok as officers extend visas

Last week, Thailand’s immigration Bureau opened a new office in Muang Thong Thani just outside Bangkok in Nonthaburi to cater for the demand in applications from foreigners in the country.

There are also reports of long queues and clusters of foreigners at immigration offices throughout the kingdom trying to regularise their situation at this time 

This is an additional concern as medical experts warn that social distancing must be enforced for a continuous period to break the infection rate and curve of the virus in the coming weeks.

Foreigners are also a significantly higher risk group at this time.

Electricity refund scheme shelved this week after massive demand and complications due to Covid 19

Thai nationals claiming the ฿5,000 monthly allowances struggled on Saturday inputting their data into the government’s system from 6 pm.

A popular income support scheme in recent months where the country’s electricity monopolies paid back collateral deposits to electricity consumers was shelved earlier in the week due to massive demand both online and at the offices of the state bodies throughout the kingdom.

This surge of applications posed a danger to the public because of the Covid 19 virus.

In Bangkok, the Metropolitan Electricity Authority has closed its websites and informed users that normal processing of routine applications such as the refund scheme will now only begin after the virus emergency has abated.

Informal workers to be paid for 3 months

The cash handouts programme for informal workers is scheduled to last for three months beginning in April with payments of ฿5,000 per month.

Those who successfully register will be sent a confirmation SMS message letting them know that their application has been successful and that therefore, there is no need to pursue the application process at their local bank branch.

Further reading:

Still a chance to avoid a curfew or lockdown if the public stays at home over the coming 7 days

24-hour curfew in the works as the government puts curbs on national travel with checkpoints on roads

Emergency centre led by the Prime Minister takes power on Thursday to fight the virus in Thailand

Minor Group boss calls on Prayuth to take decisive action to lock down Thailand and protect people’s lives

Authorities ready to control movement and lockdown as public is urged not to leave Bangkok

Government declares a state of emergency with sweeping powers to curb the spread of the virus