Interprovincial travel is still restricted across the country and 14 days quarantine is required for visitors from 5 highly infected provinces, namely Samut Sakhon, Rayong, Chonburi, Trat and Chanthaburi. Phuket announced this weekend that it has not had a Covid-19 case in one month while officials are reported to be pleased that there has been no flare-up in Bangkok despite its proximity to Samut Sakhon and the eastern provinces.
Thai officials are still battling the second Covid-19 outbreak in the kingdom in Samut Sakhon, the province hardest hit by the disease since the start of the pandemic and the eastern provinces, especially Rayong and Chonburi. On Saturday, Deputy Public Health Minister, Sathit Pitutecha, was upbeat that the battle was being won while nationwide, provincial governors announced an easing of measures. The second battle on the economic front is also delicately balanced with an economist, this week, from Krungsri Bank pointing out that the government does not have the tools to deal with the problem from an economic perspective.
Thai public health officials are expressing guarded optimism at progress in the fight against Covid-19 in the kingdom.
The main centre of infection remains Samut Sakhon province while the eastern provinces are also still of concern.
Throughout the country, an easing of restrictions has begun although interprovincial travel is still subject to tight controls particularly for those staying overnight.
73 deaths from Covid-19 as of Sunday
On Sunday, Thailand had recorded 73 deaths from the disease.
The latest was a 73-year-old woman who picked it up from a family member in Samut Sakhon. Similarly, on Saturday, an 81-year-old man was reported to have died after being infected by a family member in the province which has seen the most severe outbreak of the disease in Thailand and where the battle against it is still raging.
On the same day, the Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha, who has been active in coordinating the response in the eastern provinces, particularly in Rayong and Chonburi, suggested that there may soon be justification for lifting tight restrictions in these provinces as the daily infection toll was starting to decline.
Optimism among officials about Bangkok which still has the second highest number infections
In Bangkok, there is also guarded optimism that the virus has not broken out given its proximity to Samut Sakhon. The city remains the second-highest infected area in the kingdom with 657 cases being recorded so far compared to 5,184 in Samut Sakhon on the coast to the southwest.
Mr Sathit said the goal was to reduce levels of infection so that the eastern provinces return to the orange zone categorisation and thanked the public for its cooperation so far.
‘We have to thank people for their patience and cooperation which has led to this faster-than-expected success in containing the outbreak,’ he said.
Over the weekend, he met government and health officials in Chonburi to review progress. He promised that a move to relax controls on the provinces will be made soon with a submission to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
Top Ministry of Public Health official cautious about moving too quickly to limit restrictions in the capital
Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, who is the Director-general of the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health, was more cautious when it came to calls to ease further restrictions in Bangkok by lowering it to an orange zone on the government’s system of controls.
Last week, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration eased a range of restrictions on business activity in the metropolis in relation to retail outlets and other businesses as authorities remain mindful of the balancing act between curtailing the virus threat and keeping economic activity alive.
Provincial governors announce an easing of measures
Across the country, over the weekend, there was also brighter news as provincial governors and officials lowered the guard against the virus but also reminded the public of the restrictions in place.
In Phuket, Governor Narong Woonsiew confirmed that his province had not reported a new case in 29 days and would not require 14 days quarantine of visitors from 28 provinces coded red. However, visitors from Samut Sakhon, Rayong, Chonburi, Trat and Chanthaburi would still need to be quarantined.
‘Travellers from other provinces will not have to get their ID cards scanned before entering Phuket, but they still need to undergo thermal-scanning, checking in via MorChana application and pre-registering at the website gophuget.com before entering the province either by land, air, or sea channels,’ he outlined. ‘People from 28 provinces declared as red zones by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration due to the high number of infections, will not need to undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine before entering Phuket.’
Nakhon Ratchasima and Ayutthaya also announce the lifting of some restrictions for travellers
At the same time, Ayutthaya’s governor Panu Yaemsri and Nakhon Ratchasima’s Wichian Chantaranothai also announced an easing of restrictions but tight controls remain including a requirement in Ayutthaya for any visitor arriving in the province to report their presence within 12 hours to a senior official or village headman and quarantine if they are from the 5 provinces that are deemed most at risk.
Meanwhile, economists are analysing the impact of the second wave which is still, despite the progress being made, in the balance.
Krungsri Bank economist questions if the government can control the economic impact of the virus
The government has been advancing targeted support while trying to keep the economy ticking over.
At a seminar in Bangkok last week, Somprawin Manprasert, Chief Research Economist with Krungsri Bank observed that it was the poorer people living in urban areas in Thailand who are suffering the most due to the latest wave with reduced business activity, working hours and income.
He was sceptical that the government can manage the situation facing the country even with the best intentions. ‘The government does not have adequate policy tools to deal with the Covid fallout,’ he warned.
Bank of Thailand director concerned about the extension of the pandemic and foreign tourism
The seminar heard from Bank of Thailand senior director, Chayawadee Chai-Anant, who accepted that Thailand is now facing a K shaped recovery from the pandemic but said the government’s role would still be decisive.
‘The recovery will be a K-shaped, not V-shaped, but if government measures are effective, it will be close to a V-shape recovery,’ she explained. She said the biggest issue for her as an economist was to ascertain just how long this pandemic will last.
Ms Chayawadee again emphasised the importance of reopening the foreign tourism industry which will have to wait until the virus health threat eases considerably.
Government may have to raise the borrowing limit
During the economic seminar, the executive director of the Macroeconomic Policy Bureau at the Fiscal Policy Office Panu Yaemsri admitted that government borrowing had now increased substantially from the 42% of GDP seen at the outset of the crisis and may soon approach the 60% maximum limit set by law.
He was satisfied that the limit could be increased once it was shown the expenditure was productive.