On Friday night, the Thai Prime Minister appeared to face up to the huge economic challenge confronting the kingdom as it takes its first steps to reopen businesses and commercial activity locked down since the end of March. The Covid 19 spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin suggested some sort of certification scheme for all business operators during this new period as the kingdom guards against a second wave of infection.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha on Friday announced that he was inviting the country’s top 20 tycoons to advise on how to manage the economic challenge of getting the kingdom’s economy back to work and fending off a disaster that could be far greater than the medical threat posed by the virus when the country declared a state of emergency on March 26th.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha and two of Thailand’s top tycoons Charoen Siriwatthanaphakdi, the founder of Thai Beverage and the TCC conglomerate (left) and Dhanin Chearavanont, the Chairman of Thailand’s huge Charoen Pokphand Group (right) from an event in 2014. Both business leaders will likely be among the 20 of Thailand’s richest to be contacted this week by the government leader seeking guidance and assistance on how to extricate the Thai economy from the dangerous predicament caused by the coronavirus emergency.

On the healthcare front, the ministry of health highlighted this weekend that it had fared impressively with one of the lowest death rates in the world.

Thailand is actively considering just how to loosen the lockdown measures and restrictions imposed by the emergency decree from the end of March according to the country’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha.

The Thai prime minister, however, has warned that any relaxation of measures that may be announced will be taken on the basis that the government’s priority is to guard against a second wave of infection from the coronavirus.

Prime Minister addressed the nation on Friday to discuss plans to bring back the economy while guarding against a second wave

General Prayuth on Friday told the nation in a 10-minute address that he was reaching out to 20 of Thailand’s richest business people for assistance in tackling the next challenge which is how to alleviate the devastating impact that this virus has had on the livelihoods of Thai people and the economy.

‘I have realized that restrictions under the emergency decree have affected people,’ Thailand’s government leader said. ‘The government is trying to come up with alternative measures.’

Government spokesperson suggests certification for business owners if they wish to reopen

Some ideas as to what might be in store came earlier from the popular spokesman from the Covid 19 centre, Dr Taweeslip Visanuyothin, who told the public that the government aimed to keep a robust defence against the virus while allowing economic activity to resume.

Dr Taweeslip outlined what may be in store but insisted that no proposals have yet been approved. One was that department stores and general stores including barbershops may be allowed to reopen with the owners handed safety certificates. 

These would come with obligations to ensure customers wear face masks, that a maximum number of customers be allowed depending on the floor area of each outlet and that hand gel dispensers, as well as social distancing measures, were in place. Excess customers would have to wait outside.

New normality until a mass-produced vaccine is available – new concerns about virus immunity

There are some indications that such measures may be the new normal for some time until a mass-produced vaccine is found or until there some sort of blanket immunity to the disease. The latter seems highly unlikely as this virus may even challenge normal theories on immunity.

On Saturday, the World Health Organisation warned that at present there is no evidence to suggest that anyone who has been cured of Covid 19 is immune from the disease. 

The body indicated that while some recovered people may show evidence of antibodies, this does not necessarily correspond with immunity.

Decision on the curfew and emergency powers

General Prayuth has also disclosed that the government, while easing measures, would also have to decide on the status of the state of emergency which came into effect on March 26th and the night-time curfew which came into effect on April 3rd.

Top doctor – kingdom must not lower its guard as it alleviates the economic hardship

It is being suggested that both the emergency decree and curfew may stay in place but with an easing of conditions as top medical figures such as Dr Prasit Watanapa of the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital and Mahidol University warns that the kingdom must not lower its guard even as the health figures become more encouraging.

Dr Prasit suggested that, in the coming week, there may be a relaxation in the curfew and other moves to help the hard-hit business sector cope or survive.

Dr Prasit said his biggest concern was still the danger of a situation developing where Thailand’s health service would not have the ability to cope. 

This, thankfully, has not transpired in this first wave.

Rapid decrease in hospitalisations and one of the world’s lowest death rates – a remarkable achievement by authorities at least for the first wave

As Thailand reported no new deaths on Saturday, its hospitalisation number was 899 down from a peak on April 5th of 1,472 and beneath the 953 requiring hospital treatment on the day the state of emergency was announced on March 26th.

This, despite the low number of figures for testing, is a remarkable performance by the Thai government which has seen Thailand only record 47 deaths or a death rate of 1.7%.

This is approximately a quarter of the world average.

It should be borne in mind that no country in the world has deployed adequate testing in any event.

Dealing with the massive economic consequences will not be easy and will leave Thailand in debt

However, the problem for Thailand is that the robust government action between March 26th and April 5th has led to massive economic consequences.

The country’s tourism sector has been closed as has much of its manufacturing output.

The government has agreed in principle a ฿1.9 trillion spending programme of which ฿1 trillion is for income supports.

The funding of this package will require government borrowing which will bring it to the limits of its resources as well as the maximum allowed under the law.

A more dangerous and divided world economy – the Thai economy may be left in ICU from the infection

Thailand’s economic planners must also bear in mind sharp divisions emerging between the western world and China as the reverberations from this catastrophe will spread and grow stronger. Only now, as the crisis fro the first ave abates from its peak, will developed countries have time to absorb the massive human and economic costs.

There is already growing discontent and anger. Western governments and their populations are only now awakening to hard new realities such as constraints on everyday living. This is even before the economic real economic consequences begin to kick in. In the absence of a cheap and miracle vaccine widely distributed, the world is facing a cataclysmic change that many media outlets are still struggling to communicate to barely comprehending audiences.

As well as all this, for this country, the kingdom’s existing economic problems such as its ageing workforce and heightened debt burden will now become even weightier factors in a new, depressed world economy which will emerge from this.

Thailand has lately been regarded in economic terms as the sick man of Asia and this shock and its aftermath will leave the patient in ICU. 

UTCC forecaster says it’s the worst since 1957

Thanawat Phonwichai of the university of the Thai Chamber of Commerce this week warned that the kingdom was facing the greatest economic challenge since 1957.

Some voices at the IMF suggest the challenge for the world economy could be far greater than this. 

Certainly, the UTTC economic forecaster saw the government’s fiscal stimulus package as essential if there is not going to be an even bigger contraction of the economy in 2020 which it forecasts at only 4 to 5%. 

This week, in a best-case scenario, the IMF predicted a 6.7% contraction in Thailand’s economy.

To put things in perspective, in the United Kingdom, the government of Boris Johnson is predicting a 13% contraction in that country’s economy.

Prayuth’s appeal to the tycoons is the right call

The move by the Prime Minister to call on the richest 20 business people is a wise one.

Whatever about inequality and without doubt, this catastrophe will widen inequality in a country where poverty has already been growing since 2016, it has merit. This is no time for pointless ideology or theory for that matter.

The sheer ability of Thailand’s wealthy elite can be a positive force not only in that they are business people with finely honed survival and opportunistic instincts but also because they are already in position with their resources and market knowledge to help the government affect change quickly and practically.

Among the Thai tycoons will surely be 79-year old Dhanin Chearavanont, the Chairman of Thailand’s huge Charoen Pokphand Group, a family empire that controls conglomerates in Thailand, China and Japan and employs 300,000 people worldwide with a turnover of $45 billion.

In there also will be 76-year-old Charoen Siriwatthanaphakdi, the founder of Thai Beverage and the TCC conglomerate whose personal fortune alone is estimated at ฿350 billion.

A time for unity, all in the same boat

This is a time as the PM insisted on Friday night for unity. Everyone in Thailand, rich and poor, red or yellow shirt, is in the same boat. 

This coming economic catastrophe if not managed expertly and indeed boldly, could be far more devastating than the health threat. One thing is already for certain, more lives will be lost because of it.

Further reading:

Government begins looking at borrowing options to fund huge ฿1.9 trillion economy rescue package

Thailand and US aim for a new more ‘proactive’ trading relationship as ambassador meets Prayuth

Challenge of defeating both a health and economic emergency a big ask for Thailand’s government in crisis mode

Thailand faces a third shock after the virus if high debt and the informal economy are not prioritised

No limit on borrowing as Somkid plots the biggest stimulus package yet to address the virus crisis

Outlook for the Thai economy is bleak and will get bleaker due to its rapidly ageing population – biggest issue

Richest man in Thailand calls for less time spent at school and a Thai education revolution for a new era

A politically incorrect economic success: Thailand is home to some of the world’s richest people