The Thai currency has been the subject of international financial players in the last few weeks who are buying up debt and assets wagering that a boost to the kingdom’s economy is on the cards. It may be a bit misplaced. The government’s own projections and vaccine logistics, both in Thailand and worldwide, suggest that the payoff will have to wait until the end of 2021.

The Thai cabinet approved ฿6 billion on Tuesday for the country’s vaccine programme which is likely to take place in the middle of 2021. However, for foreigners outside Thailand looking forward to a reopening of the kingdom to mass tourism, it is quite unlikely that this is going to happen before the end of next year.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri, on Tuesday, confirmed that the cabinet had approved over ฿6 billion to buy 26 million doses of the vaccine currently on phase three trials being developed by UK firm AstraZeneca. Thailand plans to manufacture and distribute the vaccine within its borders, a huge undertaking that is likely to take place in the latter half of 2021. It is unlikely that the kingdom will reopen to mass-market tourism until the last quarter of next year based on current projections and its current defensive posture widely supported by public opinion.

Thailand, more likely than not, will not reopen to mass tourism early next year or within the first nine months of 2021, if at all. That is the fear of economic experts currently studying the impact of Covid 19 on the world economy and the prospects for a worldwide vaccine bringing an end to the catastrophe.

This week, the Bank of Thailand has had to mobilise after the kingdom’s currency again became a plaything of international financial speculators who believe that an end to the Covid-19 emergency worldwide will jump-start foreign tourism again in Thailand, generating a huge boost to the economy.

An economic analyst with Krung Thai Bank said this: ‘Foreigners have been mainly buying the front-end of the Thai debt curve for exposure to baht gains.’

Kingdom cannot change its defensive posture against the virus even as the huge financial losses mount

In the meantime, the kingdom internally is left struggling with mounting household debt, projected at 90% of GDP this year, and a growing number of hotels that make up the core of Thailand’s tourism infrastructure who are facing an extended calamity.

The problem for the government is that it simply cannot relinquish the stance or defensive posture that it has taken since the end of March this year and which is supported by the bulk of the populace.

The fundamental problem for Thailand is the deepening impact of the closure of its borders to mass tourism. The kingdom has now entered into its high season for the industry, in the past, seen as the jewel in the country’s economic crown, which lasts from the end of November through to the end of March next year.

฿2 trillion to be  lost by the end of March 2021 as 99% of tourists continue to be locked out of Thailand

As things currently stand, Thailand continues to lose over 99% of its foreign visitors who in 2019 generated over ฿2 trillion for the economy. By the end of March, this will, close enough, represent the net income loss to the Thai economy since the emergency was declared.

The problem facing Thailand is a worldwide one. 

The solution to the virus threat, that has been accepted by most countries, is a vaccine except that it takes time to implement a programme.

There have been two major vaccine announcements in the past two weeks, one from Pfizer and another from a firm called Moderna, an American biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Thailand’s vaccination program is taking shape

Under the most optimistic scenario, the US will be vaccinated sometime in July 2021. That is if all things go according to plan.

Thailand has already signed a deal with AstraZeneca for its vaccine which is currently at Phase 3 stage of its vaccine development programme in association with Oxford University.

The cabinet, on Tuesday, confirmed a budget of just over ฿6 billion to purchase 26 million doses from the UK pharmaceutical giant. This was confirmed by government spokesman, Anucha Burapachaisri.

Officials got a good deal for the cost of the vaccine

He explained that the National Vaccine Institute was already ahead in its planning and preparing for Thailand’s vaccination programme against the virus.

Government officials have been successful in reducing the price of each dose from $20 initially quoted to just under $5 or ฿150 per dose.

This will be administered to 13 million Thais as part of the government’s response. Thailand has also been preparing for the production and distribution of the vaccine in the kingdom for months now.

‘The Cabinet has agreed to earmark funds for the purchase of vaccines from AstraZeneca because the Public Health Ministry has signed a memorandum of understanding with it. Thailand’s very own Siam Bioscience company is also preparing to produce vaccines,’ said the government spokesman.

Production and distribution of the vaccine

This is a particularly prescient move given the growing concerns about the Pfizer vaccine which although reported to be 95% effective, is required to be stored at -70 degrees, without which, it loses its effectiveness within 5 days.

The vaccine requires advanced industrial refrigeration and factories at all points in the chain of distribution, which would be extremely challenging for hot countries such as Thailand and others in Southeast Asia

The Moderna product, in contrast, can be stored in normal refrigerators and is potent for 30 days afterwards.

Thailand is planning to manufacture the kingdom’s vaccine within the country and organise its distribution throughout the public health system.

Most optimistic scenario for foreign fans of Thailand is a late 2021 reopening to mass tourism

However, even if all goes to plan, it will be well into the end of 2021 before this programme becomes effective while other countries are also administering their own national vaccines.

It is unlikely that Thailand will consider reopening its borders to the Covid-19 threat or indeed eliminating its mandatory 14 day quarantine programme before these operations are completed.

The 700 or so positive tests for Covid 19 within the quarantine system in recent months shows the danger of what can happen even with the current trickle of foreigners currently entering Thailand.

This means that it will be the latter half or even the last quarter of 2021 before Thailand can even contemplate reopening to mass tourism as we knew it before Covid-19.

Since then, government responses to the threat, have altered the world to the ‘new normal’ which especially limits air travel and may be with us for some time yet.

Thailand is only projecting 9 million visitors in 2021 or 23% of the kingdom’s record year in 2019

Even this could be optimistic, given the propensity for government-run programmes and initiatives to run into difficulties and the entirely unpredictable nature of this pandemic.

A look at Thailand’s economic projections from the Ministry of Finance to the Bank of Thailand and other economic bodies also confirms this.

Currently, the Thai government is only projecting 9 million visitors in its projection for the coming year which it has combined with more robust investment, government stimulus and a resurgence in exports while predicting the kingdom’s economy to move forward by over 3.5% in 2021 and possibly up to 4.5%.

The projected number of visitors is 23% of the record number achieved in 2019 and could correspond to a boost in tourism in the last quarter of next year, usually a busy time, if mass tourism is suddenly reopened with an initially sluggish response compared to the pre-Covid era.

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Further reading:

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