Thailand Update: April 1, 2020

Thailand Update | April 1, 2020
Authors: Hai Pham, Saravadee Homsub, Natalie Tantisirirat, Ingyin
 
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Emergency Decree

  An Emergency Decree has been enforced across the country from Thursday, March 26 until Thursday, April 30 as the Royal Thai Government steps up the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The decree authorizes Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha to chair the center to fight the virus, with the Permanent Secretaries of Public Health, Interior, Commerce and Foreign Affairs to help him. The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces has been given responsibility for security affairs. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam confirmed that there will be no curfew and factories including cross-border shipping will be operated as normal. 
Key provisions of the Emergency Decree include: 

  • Governors can ban the public from entering any designated areas. 
  • Venues with high risks of infection in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Prakan, and Samut Sakhon, will remain closed, such as nightclubs, spas, gyms, sports stadiums, and massage parlors. 
  • Land, sea, and air travels into Thailand will be denied with the exception of goods transportation, diplomatic missions, foreigners who hold work permits in Thailand, Thai citizens with embassy permits and health certificates, and any other journeys exempted by the Prime Minister. 
  • Those hoarding goods related to food, drinking water, and medical supplies will be arrested and prosecuted.  
  • Large gatherings will be banned. 
  • News coverage that contains false information or causes panic or affects national security will be censored, and those responsible for the contents punished. 
  • People under 5 and over 70 will be asked to stay home. They should only journey outside for medical appointments, banking activities, buying their food, contacting the police, carrying out law enforcement orders, among other essential activities. 
  • Those with pre-existing health conditions are also asked to stay indoors. 
  • Commuting between provinces is discouraged, and those who travel to another province will be required to undergo health checks and give their personal details for a possible quarantine order. 
  • Shops selling essential goods and services will continue to operate, including banks, factories, markets, financial institutions, gas stations, and online deliveries. 

Economic Responses to COVID-19 

In an effort to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, the Thailand government approved a stimulus package on March 12 valued at 400 billion baht (USD 12.7 billion). The package covers all sectors of the economy, including SMEs which account for 99 percent of business enterprises in the country. Prime Minister Prayut added that a second phase of the stimulus could follow if the current measures required supplementation. 150 billion baht will be directed to facilitate soft loans that give commercial banks the ability to lend at 2 percent. Meanwhile, 30 billion baht is used to set up a fund with a 3 percent lending rate, while withholding taxes for businesses have been reduced to 1.5 percent. On March 30, Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana announced that another stimulus package worth 500 billion baht (USD 15.3 billion) was being worked on.  

The Bank of Thailand has urged commercial banks to lower minimum credit card payments to 5 percent, from the former 10 percent. It has also set up a facility to promote liquidity for mutual funds through commercial banks. To promote employment, the Social Security Office (SSO) has jumpstarted 30 million baht in soft loans for SSO-registered entrepreneurs at a mere 3 percent. To attract public investment into the Social Savings Fund (SSF), the government is investing more than 65 percent of the SSF into companies listed on the Thailand Stock Exchange. These measures came at a time when Thailand’s tourism sector declined by half due to a hiatus in global tourism, and a reduction of tourists from China which numbered about 11 million last year- the largest group of visitors. 
 
Thailand Tourism Sector Receives Aid

Thailand is anticipating a loss of 5 million tourists this year, a financial loss of approximately 250 billion baht (US$ 8 billion). In early March, Thailand's Tourism and Sports Minister mentioned that the ministry would propose a domestic travel stimulus package valued at around 5 billion baht to ease the setbacks. However, as the country declared a state of emergency on March 26 which will last until April 30, all foreign travelers are temporarily banned from entering the country from any checkpoint, with possible movement restrictions in the country as well. 

Noting the dire effects of the pandemic on one of the country's largest industries, several stimulus measures  have been proposed to reintroduce cash flow into the tourism sector. The 400 billion baht (US$ 12.7 billion) stimulus package unveiled on March 10 included an allocation of 150 million baht of soft loans from the Government Savings Bank (GSB) at 2-4 percent interest rates. Through agreement with the Finance Ministry and government banks, 10 billion baht from among the soft loans allotment will be available to SMEs in the tourism industry. Another 10 billion baht can address large tourism-related businesses. In the sector, each SME is allowed up to 3 million baht at 3 percent interest, while each large business is allowed up to 20 million baht at 2 percent interest. 

The Tourism Council of Thailand expects to have a complete list of loan requests to aid the sector on March 27, so that the GSB and the SME Development Bank can access the information for verification. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports remains hopeful that if the pandemic is resolved by June or July, the industry has a full chance of recovery for the second half of the year 

Addressing Shortages

The Thai Ministry of Commerce has established war rooms to regulate seven essential goods and services as suppliers try to meet the surging demand of the local public. The goods include rice, instant noodles, water and beverages, among others. The Ministry is also working together with the Transport Ministry to ensure that transport of goods from distribution centers can be expedited in a safe and reliable manner.  

 Eggs

To address the inflation of egg prices in the country, the Thailand Ministry of Commerce banned egg exports to keep up with the local demand amidst a frenzy of people stocking up on eggs. The temporary ban is effective from April 1 until the end of the month, or until the situation improves. Additional measures to stabilize the market also include delaying the retirement of laying hens from 72 weeks to 80 weeks. Approximately 41 million eggs are produced each day for commercial use, and about 1 million are exported before the temporary ban was enforced. Under the Emergency Decree declared by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on March 26, those hoarding goods related to food, water, and medical supplies can be arrested and prosecuted.  

Masks 

To meet the accelerating demand in surgical masks, the Ministry of Commerce has banned mask maskers from exporting, until the supply has met local demands. All mask production myst be directed to a distribute center under the Ministry which would allocate supplies to relevant key areas.  

The Minster of Commerce, Jurin Laksanawisit stated that local factories were making about 2.3 million masks a day. Under the Ministry’s directives, the Health Ministry would get 1.3 million per day, which would be distributed to hospitals nationwide; the Interior Ministry would receive the other 1 million, which would be distributed to the governors of provinces to be further distributed locally at their discretion.  

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Regional Affairs
Rule relaxed for legal migrant workers

National Affairs
Distribution of masks regulated, egg export ban extended
Health certificates required of all visitors
Bars, schools shut for 14 days
Hundreds of hospital beds readied
Army to disinfect Bangkok roads nightly
Thai- Lao border closed in Phayao
50 MPs join Move Forward
Hundreds stage street protest against Prayut regime

Banking
Thailand's largest bank works on Ripple based app for tourists

Customs
Commerce Ministry sees possibility for 2020 export growth

Economics
February exports rise 3.6% y-o-y, trade surplus widens: BoT
Thailand Earmarks Further $15 Billion for Coronavirus Crisis
Markets to stay open April 13-15 as economist calls for 'blanket rescue'
Thailand unveils $17 billion stimulus package to ease coronavirus impact

Energy
Energy Ministry to cut price of CNG by 3 baht
23rd Round of Petroleum Bidding for Exploration and Production Delayed Indefinitely Due to COVID-19 Outbreak | Lexology
Thailand Allocates Petroleum Exploration Blocks for 23rd Round of Bidding
Thailand 'to be regional EV hub' in five years

Financial Services
Digital payments nearly double in March amid virus outbreak
Thailand, Japan sign local currency swap arrangement

Food & Agriculture
Rice exports seen rising as virus outbreak troubles competitors
Somkid asks Jetro to back smart farming initiative
Medical Cannabis: Thailand leads worldwide healthcare promotion
PM Prayut observes anti-rabies activity, exhibition on supermarket cooperatives
Excise Department offers tax benefits for alcohol used to make hand sanitizers
RPT-Asia Rice-Thai drought raises supply jitters, Vietnam rates at over 1-yr high
World Bank says Thai poverty rate increases, farm income slides

Health & Life Sciences
Mandatory sim and app used to track down movement
Thai FDA Provides Fast Track Approval for the Manufacturing and Importing of Surgical Masks | Lexology
32 new COVID-19 cases in Thailand’s biggest one day jump
400 billion baht stimulus announced to boost Thai economy
5G smart robots take care of coronavirus patients
Better care centres, paternal leave urged
NHSO agrees to add COVID-19 to national healthcare
Thailand outlines US$3.2 billion stimulus to alleviate COVID-19 impact
Tourism-driven Thailand softens 'compulsory' self-isolation language
Virus covered by universal health care
Public Health Min. organizes ‘Rare Disease Day Thailand’

ICT
App orders projected to see 17% growth
NBTC seeks nod for free 10GB perk
On a mission to fine-tune local TV content
Lazada lines up niche campaigns
NBTC allots B1bn for health fight
Virus relief fraudsters con workers
NBTC keen to snag ITU's international conference
Agencies develop apps to halt virus

Infrastructure
Lockdown leaves migrant workers exposed
B39bn Don Mueang 3rd phase gets nod
Red Line train trials to begin in October
KRNA-led consortium selected for HSR Management project in Thailand
Tussle over Chiang Mai's tramway
Medium-size reservoir eyed for East
Orange Line work on course

Philippines
Thailand rejects WTO talks on PHL cigarette export dispute

Travel & Tourism
Tourism operators want two-week Thai lockdown
Tourism Ministry hopes for post-virus bounce
Thailand cancels visa on arrival for 18 countries, visa exemptions for 3
'We have to be resilient': Tourism in Thailand plummets amidst the coronavirus outbreak
Worst case scenario - Thailand loses 10 million tourists this year
Tourist arrivals plummet 44.3% in February due to coronavirus
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Rule relaxed for legal migrant workers Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2020
The Labour Ministry is to allow Cambodian, Lao and Myanmar workers stranded due to border closure to continue working beyond the expiration of their work permits. The decision would benefit 108,586 migrant workers. The migrant workers are allowed to continue with their work until the border reopens, the minister said.

National Affairs

Distribution of masks regulated, egg export ban extended Bangkok Post 30th Mar 2020
The government extended the ban on chicken egg exports on Monday and assigned two ministries to handle distribution of all locally made surgical masks, both steps intended to end continuing local shortages. The ban on exports would end when the supply could meet domestic demand, he said. Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce minister said local factories were making about 2.3 million masks a day. All of them would now go to the Public Health Ministry and the Interior Ministry.

Health certificates required of all visitors Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2020
Travelers to Thailand have to now show authorities a health certificate, issued no more than 72 hours before traveling, confirming that they have been tested and are free from the virus. They must also present an insurance policy showing minimum coverage for coronavirus of not less than US$100,000. It is unclear when the new measure will take effect and how it will be enforced at various border points. Since people cannot get tested for the virus in most places at the moment due to the high costs and shortages of test kits, the requirement is in effect a travel ban although the government stopped short of describing it as such.

Bars, schools shut for 14 days Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2020
Bars, entertainment venues, traditional massage parlours, gyms, theatres, cinemas as well as international schools and universities in Bangkok and surrounding provinces will be closed from today (March 18) to combat the Covid-19 outbreak. The April 13-15 Songkran break has also been postponed to stop huge crowds of people from heading to their home towns to celebrate. People arriving from South Korea, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran -- all defined as dangerous disease zones -- must produce health certificates issued within three days previously and have health insurance.

Hundreds of hospital beds readied Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2020
The Ministry of Public Health insists there will be sufficient hospital beds to accommodate Covid-19 patients, saying 400 will be ready in hospitals in Bangkok by this week. "Crisis level", according to the ministry, would be reached when the number of Covid-19 cases admitted to hospitals exceeds 1,000 per day. The Public Health and Tourism and Sports ministries are working to find space in sports stadiums, apartments and hotels where convalescing patients can be cared for after 48 hours in hospital. The total average length of treatment for Covid-19 cases is 20 days.

Army to disinfect Bangkok roads nightly Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2020
Beginning Thursday morning (March 19), the army will begin spraying roads in Bangkok with disinfectant to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Army units have been deployed to carry out the daily cleaning from 1am to 5am until the end of the month. The cleaning will focus on roads around trading zones, transport stations, ports, education facilities, outdoor activity areas and public gathering points.

Thai- Lao border closed in Phayao Bangkok Post 17th Mar 2020
The border crossing to Laos in Phu Sang district of this northern province has been closed from both sides due to the Covid-19 threat. Phu Sang district chief Wirun Sithiwong said he was informed on Tuesday morning by the chief administrator of Muang Khob, on the Lao  side of the border, that the Pang Mone international border checkpoint had been closed until the Covid-19 situation improves. Therefore, he ordered the Ban Huak checkpoint on the Thai side to also close, effective from Tuesday.

50 MPs join Move Forward Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2020
Fifty former Future Forward MPs have applied to join the Move Forward Party and elected Pita Limjaroenrat as the leader of the opposition party. “Move Forward is the new chapter of Future Forward,” Mr Pita told supporters as he discussed the party’s plans. “It will uphold its intentions, ideology and spirit and will be the hope of desperate people in this country." Mr Pita, 39, holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Thammasat University. He holds a joint degree from Harvard University (Master of Public Policy) and MIT (Master of Business Administration), according to the Parliament database.

Hundreds stage street protest against Prayut regime Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2020
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters marched on Parliament in Bangkok on March 13, wearing black T-shirts to mourn the state of the country under the current government, in the first significant street protest in six years. The boisterous but peaceful “Black Friday” rally, calling for the governmental reform.

Banking

Thailand's largest bank works on Ripple based app for tourists Crypto News Flash 27th Mar 2020
Ripple has shared an update of its longtime partner, the Thai Siam Commercial Bank – one of the largest banks in Thailand in terms of cash flow with 1,000 branches throughout the country. Siam Commercial Bank has developed the mobile application “SCB Easy” based on Ripple‘s technology. As Arthit Sriumporn, senior vice president for commercial banking, explained, before the app was available, customers of the bank who wanted to send money to their family and friends outside Thailand had to go to a branch of the bank, fill out many forms and then wait up to five days for the money to arrive. With the RippleNet based app, the process was simplified and optimized, according to Sriumporn. Thailand is an ideal location for the deployment of Ripple’s technologies, as the country is home to 4.9 million migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia, according to recent estimates. The total remittance market in the region is estimated at US$68 billion.

Customs

Commerce Ministry sees possibility for 2020 export growth Bangkok Post 31st Mar 2020
Despite exports falling in February and the stampede of negative factors that have ensued, the Commerce Ministry still sees room for Thai export growth this year. Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director-general of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office, said Thailand is competent in the food and agricultural industries as well as essential goods, while electronic shipments can recover, which account for 14% of total exports. The weakening baht and massive government interventions around the world for both monetary and fiscal policies can reduce the economic impact of the outbreak and stabilise global trade, she said.

Economics

February exports rise 3.6% y-o-y, trade surplus widens: BoT Bangkok Post 31st Mar 2020
Thailand's current account surplus was $5.4 billion in February, up from a surplus of $3.44 billion in the previous month, the Bank of Thailand (BoT) said on Tuesday. Exports rose 3.6% in February from a year earlier, after rising 3.5% in January. Imports fell 7.8% year-on-year in February after January's 0.1% drop. February saw a trade surplus of $5.4 billion, up from a $0.38 billion surplus in January.

Thailand Earmarks Further $15 Billion for Coronavirus Crisis New York Times 30th Mar 2020
Thailand's new stimulus package to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus crisis will be worth more than 500 billion baht ($15.3 billion), its finance minister said on Monday. The latest is being worked on by the finance ministry, the central bank and relevant agencies, Uttama Savanayana said.

Markets to stay open April 13-15 as economist calls for 'blanket rescue' Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2020
Bangkok Bank's chief economist on Wednesday evening called for a "blanket rescue" to prevent bankruptcies during the coronavirus crisis after the central bank earlier announced Thailand's financial markets will stay open during April 13-15. The usual holiday for financial institutions has been cancelled and a new holiday will be decided later, the Bank of Thailand (BoT) said in a statement.

Thailand unveils $17 billion stimulus package to ease coronavirus impact The Straits Times 10th Mar 2020
Thailand's Cabinet approved a stimulus package on March 10 worth an estimated 400 billion baht (US$12.7 billion) to help alleviate the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on already-faltering domestic activity. The stimulus includes 150 billion baht of soft loans at 2 per cent interest rates, plus another 30 billion baht of lending from the security fund at a rate of 3 per cent. Withholding taxes for businesses will be reduced to 1.5 per cent from 3.0 per cent, and they will be offered 1.5 times tax deductions on interest rates, and three times tax deductions on wage expenses.

Energy

Energy Ministry to cut price of CNG by 3 baht Bangkok Post 25th Mar 2020
The Energy Ministry announced on Wednesday that it will reduce the retail price of compressed natural gas (CNG) for public transport by three baht per kilogramme for three months, effective April 1. The measure, passed by the Energy Policy Administration Committee, applies to all public transport, including buses, minibuses, taxis, tuk-tuks, songthaews and interprovincial buses. This means CNG will cost 10.62 baht per kg, down from 13.62 baht, starting next Wednesday and ending June 30. Private vehicles will be unaffected by the policy.

23rd Round of Petroleum Bidding for Exploration and Production Delayed Indefinitely Due to COVID-19 Outbreak | Lexology Lexology 25th Mar 2020
The Ministry of Energy has issued an order to delay the 23rd round of bidding for petroleum exploration and production, as reported on the official website of the Department of Mineral Fuels (DMF). The 23rd round of bidding involved three exploration blocks in the Gulf of Thailand, and was previously expected to open in early April 2020, with the DMF set to return their final decision regarding concessions within the end of 2020. The delayed round of bidding would have reportedly been the first round in 13 years. However, the Ministry of Energy has now announced that the scheduled date for opening up the 23rd round of bidding will now be delayed indefinitely, due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, and due to the global decline in oil prices, both of which might discourage potential investors.

Thailand Allocates Petroleum Exploration Blocks for 23rd Round of Bidding Lexology 12th Mar 2020
On March 2, 2020, the Department of Mineral Fuels (DMF) issued Notification Re: the Determination of Exploration Blocks for the Bidding for Petroleum Exploration and Production Concessions B.E. 2563 (2020). This notification, which repeals Notification of the Department of Mineral Fuels Re: the Determination of Exploration Blocks for the Bidding for Petroleum Exploration and Production Concessions B.E. 2561 (2018), allocates the areas to be used as exploration blocks for the 23rd round of bidding for petroleum and exploration production concessions. The three new exploration blocks, located in the Gulf of Thailand, are as follows: Block G1/63, covering 8,197 km2; Block G2/63, covering 15,030 km2; and Block G3/63, covering 11,646 km2 (divided into Areas A and B). In total, the exploration blocks set by the DMF cover 34,873 square kilometers—a larger geographical area than allocated in prior petroleum exploration and production concessions.

Thailand 'to be regional EV hub' in five years Bangkok Post 11th Mar 2020
The government has announced a policy to make Thailand a regional hub of electric vehicles in five years. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak made the announcement at Government House on Wednesday in his capacity as the chairman of the National Electric Vehicle Policy Committee. "Strategies are in place for all parties to make Thailand an electric vehicle production base within five years. The Industry Ministry, the Energy Ministry and the Transport Ministry will implement the strategies with relevant parties," he said.

Financial Services

Digital payments nearly double in March amid virus outbreak Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2020
Thailand's digital payments jumped 93% in March from a year earlier, the central bank said on Wednesday, as the coronavirus outbreak pushes up demand for online services. The number of transactions made via the PromptPay platform averaged about 11 million per day in March, up from 5.7 million per day in the same period last year, the central bank said. The highest daily transactions were 15 million on March 31, it said. Thailand has recorded 1,771 cases of the coronavirus and 12 deaths. A state of emergency was enforced on March 26, and people have been asked to stay home to limit the spread of the virus.

Thailand, Japan sign local currency swap arrangement Bangkok Post 31st Mar 2020
The central banks of Thailand and Japan on March 31 signed a bilateral local currency swap arrangement (BSA) to enhance the financial stability of the two countries, the Bank of Thailand said in a statement. The BSA is effective for a period of three years. The arrangement allows for the exchange of local currencies between the two central banks of up to 240 billion baht, enabling them to provide baht or yen liquidity to eligible financial institutions in support of their cross-border operations.

Food & Agriculture

Rice exports seen rising as virus outbreak troubles competitors Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2020
Thai rice exporters expect to increase sales as the spread of coronavirus sparks global food security concerns and major competitors face export bans or go into lockdown to battle the outbreak. The kingdom now sees a better outlook after the virus outbreak sent India into a three-week lockdown and Vietnam, the world's third-largest exporter, banned new rice export contracts last week to ensure domestic supply. The Thai Rice Exporters Association told Reuters that there is currently no sign Thailand will limit rice exports, as no measure was discussed with the Ministry of Commerce earlier last week. Thailand, which usually produces just over 20 million tonnes of rice each year, consumes about 10 million tonnes domestically and exports the rest.

Somkid asks Jetro to back smart farming initiative Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2020
The Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) is being asked to help support Thailand's agricultural restructuring, as the government through the state-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) is offering as much as 20 billion baht in loans to support smart farming. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak met Jetro chairman Sasaki Nobuhiko in Tokyo on Monday. Mr Somkid asked Jetro to offer technical support and coordinate with large Japanese firms to provide farm-related technology and machinery to the Thai farm sector.

Medical Cannabis: Thailand leads worldwide healthcare promotion Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2020
Thailand was the first Asian country to amend its laws to allow for medical cannabis. The amendment is narrow, essentially allowing only research and development activities under license with public institutions and consumption with a medical certificate. Companies are positioning for the eventual commercialisation and expecting similar liberalisation throughout Asia. In the “green rush” to develop markets, companies must not ignore the answer to that core business question.

PM Prayut observes anti-rabies activity, exhibition on supermarket cooperatives National News Bureau of Thailand 16th Mar 2020
The Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, took part in an activity to promote the "Disease-free Animals, Save Humans from Rabies" project. The Prime Minister attended the activity to promote the project, organized by Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. He warned the general public not to buy pets, particularly dogs, at stores without proper permits. The pets may be of inferior quality and may have health problems, and the owners may have to abandon them due to high medical costs. He instructed relevant units to enforce the law to prevent the issue of stray dogs strictly, because they can cause problems, such as diseases, for communities, tourist destinations and temples. The Prime Minister also urged supermarket cooperatives to sell more organic vegetables, fruit and meat. He instructed relevant agencies to help manage them, teach farmers about organic farming and market demand, and promote beef cattle farming. He also would like supermarket cooperatives to expand to all provinces nationwide.

Excise Department offers tax benefits for alcohol used to make hand sanitizers National News Bureau of Thailand 16th Mar 2020
The Excise Department has offered a tax exemption program for the processing of liqueur with 80% or more alcohol content to make hand sanitizers. A relaxation of ethanol sales regulations will be for 6 months to facilitate a capacity increase in the production of hand sanitizers amid the epidemic of COVID-19. The Excise Department Director General Patchara Anuatasilpa said the department announced on 6 March a special guideline for companies to file 0% excise tax for liqueur with 80% or more alcohol content that has been processed into an ingredient to make hand sanitizers. This special guideline allows liqueur companies to donate their alcohol for the making of hand sanitizers. The department is in the process of relaxing ethanol sale regulations, which will be valid until 30 September, specifically to help the production of hand sanitizing products.

RPT-Asia Rice-Thai drought raises supply jitters, Vietnam rates at over 1-yr high Successful Farming 12th Mar 2020
Drought conditions in Thailand stoked concerns of a supply shortage and lifted rice export prices to a more than 6-1/2 year high this week, while strong domestic demand amid a coronavirus outbreak pushed Vietnamese rates to more than a one-year peak. Thailand's benchmark 5% broken rice prices rose to $470-$495 per tonne on Thursday, their highest since August 2013, versus last week's $460-$467 range.

World Bank says Thai poverty rate increases, farm income slides Reuters 5th Mar 2020
Thailand needs to invest in education and create jobs in higher-income sectors, the World Bank said in a report on Thursday that showed a rising rate of poverty as the country’s economy slowed. Thailand is Southeast Asia’s largest economy after Indonesia but has lagged its regional peers and grew at its weakest pace in five years in 2019.

Health & Life Sciences

Mandatory sim and app used to track down movement The Thaiger 17th Mar 2020
A free sim card is being provided by The National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) to every foreigner as well as Thais who had have travelled from countries that have have been designated as ‘high risk’ of Covid-19 infections. The sim card will be used together with the AoT Airports application, to help track the position of users for 14 days to verify that they remain in quarantine. The app will track the position of the phone for 14 days and will alert authorities if it leaves the designated quarantine area. After 14 days have passed, it will stop tracking and the system will delete the data immediately.

Thai FDA Provides Fast Track Approval for the Manufacturing and Importing of Surgical Masks | Lexology Lexology 17th Mar 2020
On 11 March, the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) issued a public announcement that the FDA provides a fast track channel for business operators who wish to apply for the approval to manufacture or import surgical masks. This is to support the high demand for masks in the country due to the spread of COVID-19 and to facilitate business operators to obtain approvals as the FDA’s first priority.

32 new COVID-19 cases in Thailand’s biggest one day jump Thai PBS World 16th Mar 2020
Thailand reported 32 new COVID-19 cases today. This is the biggest jump so far in a single day, raising the number of infections in the country to 114. The Permanent Secretary said that he has repeatedly warned Thai people to delay their trips abroad, but his warning has not been heeded and not all of those who have returned from foreign trips have quarantined themselves, but have instead gone out and met other people, causing the contagion to spread. He also warned against visiting enclosed areas, such as pubs and bars, boxing stadia and restaurants.

400 billion baht stimulus announced to boost Thai economy The Thaiger 11th Mar 2020
Yesterday’s Thai cabinet meeting gave the greenlight to a new stimulus package. The government expects the approved 400 billion baht to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. Last week’s 2,000 baht cash stimulus proposal, which was largely roasted in Thai social media after being proposed by the economic ministers, isn’t included in yesterday’s approved package. The Kasikorn Research Centre has slashed its forecast for Thailand’s GDP growth this year to 0.5%. They believe the outbreak will wipe over 400 billion baht off tourism receipts. Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha says the 400 billion baht package is a first-phase measure “that could be followed by second-phase action if the impact persists”. Meanwhile, the Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana believes the stimulus package will ease conditions for the public and businesses suffering from the impact of the virus. “The short-term measure will last for a few months, after which the Covid-19 situation will be assessed again.”

5G smart robots take care of coronavirus patients Bangkok Post 9th Mar 2020
Chulalongkorn University has joined forces with Advanced Info Service (AIS) to develop smart robots with 5G tech to monitor and take care of coronavirus patients and those under monitoring for the first time in Thailand. "We leveraged our 5G network in business districts for the use of smart robots to fight Covid-19," said Wasit Wattanasap, head of nationwide operations and support for AIS, using the technical jargon for the illness. The robots were assembled by the engineering and medicine faculties of Chulalongkorn University.

Better care centres, paternal leave urged Bangkok Post 9th Mar 2020
Women yesterday called for more daycare centres for young children as well as paternal leave -- which is now offered only to men in the civil service -- to be extended to all working fathers of new-born babies. The calls were made yesterday during a march in Bangkok by more than 500 workers led by a group of women rights activists to mark International Women's Day. Thanaphon Wichan, president of the Women Workers Unity Group, said daycare centres, which are run by government agencies, close before mothers are able to get to them to pick up their children. As a result, many mothers working in large cities including Bangkok are left with no choice but to send their children to their grandparents in their hometowns.

NHSO agrees to add COVID-19 to national healthcare National News Bureau of Thailand 8th Mar 2020
The board of the National Health Security Office (NHSO) has approved the inclusion COVID-19 in its health care coverage program which covers all stages from prevention to medical rehabilitation. The NHSO has approved the inclusion of COVID-19 in its health care program which covers prevention, awareness campaigns, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for members of the national health program, also known as the Gold Card. Although the outbreak of the virus in Thailand is still in the second phase which indicates that no outbreak has occurred in the country, the NHSO needs to prepare budgets and measures to support the patients in order to build confidence among people and fully support the patient care commitment of its service units. For more information, please call the NHSO hotline 1330.

Thailand outlines US$3.2 billion stimulus to alleviate COVID-19 impact CNA 6th Mar 2020
Thailand on Friday (Mar 6) outlined a stimulus package, estimated to be worth more than US$3.2 billion, to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on activity in an already-flagging economy. Southeast Asia's second-largest economy is growing at its weakest pace in years due to soft exports and investment. The epidemic continues to hit tourism, which was a bright spot. The package, approved by the economic cabinet, includes cash handouts, soft loans and other financial assistance, and tax benefits, Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana told reporters after a meeting of economic ministers. "It's a temporary, broad-based package to help various groups," he said.

Tourism-driven Thailand softens 'compulsory' self-isolation language Reuters 6th Mar 2020
Officials in tourism-reliant Thailand sought on Friday to ease worries about new self-quarantine measures for arrivals from six countries and territories with coronavirus, a day after announcing compulsory isolation.  There had been days of confusion as officials gave different explanations of regulations that could further damage tourism, which accounts for about 12% of Thailand’s economy. South Korea, China, Macao, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran were designated on Thursday as “dangerous communicable disease areas”. Health Ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kiphati said that arrivals from these places would be fined 20,000 baht ($630) if they did not self-quarantine for 14 days at home or in a hotel room. On Friday, however, other health officials took a slightly softer line and recommedned that people people exercise home quarantine.

Virus covered by universal health care Bangkok Post 2nd Mar 2020
Coronavirus will be officially covered under the universal healthcare programme while authorities are rushing to ease protective mask shortages as Thailand takes action to contain a possible spread of the disease. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the board of the National Health Security Office (NHSO) approved the inclusion on Monday. A 3.5-billion-baht budget will be sought from the contingency budget for treatment in the remaining seven months of fiscal 2020 ending in October, he said.

Public Health Min. organizes ‘Rare Disease Day Thailand’ Pattaya Mail 2nd Mar 2020
The Thai Rare Disease Foundation, the Genetics Society of Thailand and Ramathibodi Hospital are each involved in this event, which had its opening presided over by the Deputy Minister of Public Health, Dr. Satit Pitutecha. There are currently over 6,000 recorded rare diseases with up to 30,000 Thais suffering from such ailments. Unfamiliarity with the conditions can lead to issues in treatment starting with diagnosis. So far, 24 such diseases have been added to the gold-card healthcare scheme ensuring equal access to health services and compelling the Government Pharmaceutical Organization to produce and distribute needed medicine.

ICT

App orders projected to see 17% growth Bangkok Post 30th Mar 2020
Kasikorn Research Center (K-Research) projects 17% growth for online food delivery through apps this year as the coronavirus outbreak has discouraged people from visiting restaurants. Last year, K-Research predicted food delivery would grow an average of 10% per year, faster than the food business at a 4-5% clip per year. Once the pandemic winds down, whether online food delivery will become the new normal for Thai customers is hard to predict as food prices via delivery services are more expensive than eating out, he said.

NBTC seeks nod for free 10GB perk Bangkok Post 30th Mar 2020
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will seek cabinet approval on Tuesday for providing mobile users with 10 free gigabytes of data usage per subscriber per month until June 30 as work from home measures are being adopted broadly in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. For fixed broadband service, existing household broadband subscribers would be supported in using the better capacity package without additional charges, though details of it have yet to be divulged. Regarding fibre-to-the-home (FTTX) service, at least 100 megabits per second for download speeds must be ensured for household subscribers.

On a mission to fine-tune local TV content Bangkok Post 7th Mar 2020
After 50 years in the TV industry, Channel 3 is facing its toughest challenge with the global trend of digital disruption. "We no longer focus on serving as a digital TV channel, but we give weight to content that can be aired on every 'display' channel so audiences can watch," Ariya Banomyong, president of Channel 3 operator BEC World Plc tells Bangkok Post. He sees a path forward for the TV business: "For Channel 3, it will be to export local content by partnering with over-the-top (OTT) platforms to reach new audiences."

Lazada lines up niche campaigns Bangkok Post 5th Mar 2020
Lazada Thailand, the e-commerce arm of Alibaba in ASEAN, is gearing up for more targeted marketing campaigns to shoppers this year as the coronavirus outbreak is leading to rising online transactions and more vendors. On Lazada, the top-selling items in the health category include face masks, sanitiser gel and gloves. Warnings and point deductions could be imposed on sellers of these items if they overcharge their customers. More than 200 million items are sold on Lazada's platform in Asean and 90% of the products can be delivered within the same day or next day, which reflects the strong logistics network, said Ms Thanida.

NBTC allots B1bn for health fight Bangkok Post 29th Mar 2020
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) on Wednesday agreed to set aside 1 billion baht from its budget to support hospitals and public health agencies in combating the coronavirus outbreak. The sum will be drawn from its fiscal 2020 budget and Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research Fund (BTRF). Hospitals and public health agencies have been allowed to submit their request for assistance with the NBTC. Other uses include helping public health agencies and hospitals develop communication apps for people who cannot visit hospitals for checkups when the emergency decree comes into force, he said. The NBTC's move could set a precedent for other state enterprises and corporations to follow by earmarking money from budgets deemed unnecessary to help those in dire need, he said. The NBTC earlier planned to provide mobile users with 10 free gigabytes of data usage per subscriber per month until the end of June to assist people in working from home following the outbreak. For fixed broadband service, existing household broadband subscribers would be supported in using the better capacity package without additional charges, though details of it have yet to be divulged. The plan, however, was not tabled at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday as expected. The plan involves state coffers, with the budget from 5G spectrum licence payment and Universal Service Obligation fees.

Virus relief fraudsters con workers Bangkok Post 29th Mar 2020
Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana has vowed to crack down on people who demand a "commission" by offering to help informal workers applying for 5,000-baht financial aid granted by the government to relieve the Covid-19 impact. The demands for payment have been made even though applicants can easily register their requests online, and come as state-owned Krung Thai Bank reported yesterday that at least 44 phoney websites have been opened to fool workers into revealing their private information.

NBTC keen to snag ITU's international conference Bangkok Post 16th Mar 2020
The telecom regulator will ask to host a major conference for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in May 2021 as part of a push to outline Thailand's competitiveness in 5G. Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said he will talk with ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao soon via video conference about the proposal to host the ITU Telecom World 2021 conference.

Agencies develop apps to halt virus Bangkok Post 11th Mar 2020
Thailand's leading tech pioneers and research institutes are seeking ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through the use of a mobile app, high-performance computing, machine learning and material science. The National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), the Digital Government Development Agency (DGA) and the Department of Disease Control (DDC) developed a mobile app allowing people put under quarantine to self-assess their health conditions. This app will be called "VWatch", said Narong Sirilertworakul, president of NSTDA.

Infrastructure

Lockdown leaves migrant workers exposed Bangkok Post 23rd Mar 2020
A partial lockdown in Thailand to limit the spread of coronavirus exempts construction, exposing thousands of migrant workers to the deadly disease, human rights groups warned on Monday. The government has shut down malls in Bangkok for 22 days and extended the closure of schools, bars and cinemas in the capital to curb the outbreak. Several provinces also implemented similar measures. But construction work on high-rise apartments and office complexes continues, with hundreds of migrant workers seen heading to work in the morning, only a few wearing face masks or bandanas around their nose and mouth.

B39bn Don Mueang 3rd phase gets nod Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2020
The Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) board has approved a master plan for the third-phase development of Don Mueang airport costing an estimated 39 billion baht, a source at the AoT said on Wednesday. The expansion scheme, which will increase the airport's capacity to 40 million passengers a year -- up from 30 million at present, includes a 3.4-kilometre automated people mover system (APM), 12 parking bays, a junction terminal offering retail space and car park buildings. The APM system will boost the airport's capacity to handle increasing passenger numbers and should also ease congestion at the airport, which has caused spill-over traffic jams on the adjacent Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.

Red Line train trials to begin in October Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2020
Test runs for the new Red Line electric railway from Bang Sue to Rangsit will start in October on schedule as construction of the line and Bang Sue Central Station are almost complete. The Covid-19 pandemic will not affect the delivery of Japanese-made trains in time for the three-month trial before the 26-kilometre route is opened to the public by January next year, acting State Railway of Thailand governor Worawut Mala said on Wednesday. "Despite the spread of Covid-19, the train manufacturer insists all trains will be shipped to Thailand by the middle of this year," the SRT governor said.

KRNA-led consortium selected for HSR Management project in Thailand Urban Transport News 19th Mar 2020
The Korea Rail Network Authority (KRNA), a government-owned agency established for construction and management of railways including high speed, conventional and urban rail infrastructures, has been selected as the preferred bidder for a high-speed railway management project in Thailand. This project is being monitored and supervised by the Eastern Economic Corridor Office of Thailand (EECO). The EECO is a government agency in charge of planning, budgeting, and implementing economic development projects in three provinces southeast of Bangkok, Thailand. The KRNA has formed a consortium with 13 major multinational companies to win the project, which will cost a 156 billion won project award.

Tussle over Chiang Mai's tramway Bangkok Post 16th Mar 2020
Chamber of commerce urges all three lines be built at once, but MRTA says state has other mass transit priorities too. Businesses say the planned 27-billion-baht tramway project will help stimulate the local economy, which is experiencing a downturn as a result of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Somchai Ueawongchai, secretary-general of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, said the Covid-19 outbreak has dealt a significant blow to Chiang Mai's economy because the tourism sector accounts for a significant part of its economic output.

Medium-size reservoir eyed for East Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2020
The construction of a medium-sized reservoir in Chachoengsao province will be proposed as part of a water-management plan to ensure sufficient irrigation for farms and for industries in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), said Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon. He added that the plan for Huay Krok Khian reservoir, with a storage capacity of 19.20 cubic metres, will be submitted to the National Water Resource Committee (NWRC) for consideration. Once built, the reservoir in Tha Takiab district's Ban Ang Toey should be able to feed 3 million cubic metres of water into the farming, tourism and industry sectors. The project is scheduled for implementation between 2021 and 2023, he said.

Orange Line work on course Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2020
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob has assured that the eastern section of Bangkok's Orange Line, stretching from the Thailand Cultural Centre to Min Buri, will be ready by 2024 as planned. He was speaking on Thursday after presiding over a ceremony to mark the start of the project's third tunnel boring machine -- running from Hua Mak to Ramkhamhaeng station -- which is expected to be completed by July. When in operation, it is estimated that this section of the Orange Line will serve up to 400,000 passengers a day, helping save time and travel costs, and reduce the negative impact on the environment caused by using cars.

Philippines

Thailand rejects WTO talks on PHL cigarette export dispute Business World 2nd Mar 2020
Thailand declined to discuss at the World Trade Organization (WTO) its dispute with the Philippines over the latter’s cigarette exports, further prolonging the 12-year trade saga. The WTO had included on the agenda for its Feb. 28 meeting a discussion of customs and fiscal measures connected to Philippine cigarette exports to Thailand. The Philippines first complained in 2008 of Thailand’s customs valuation on cigarette imports, which the WTO decided in favor of the Philippines in 2010. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said in November that it is considering retaliatory measures for Thailand’s non-compliance with the WTO ruling. DTI said it may impose quantitative restrictions or tariffs on Thai automotive exports to the Philippines. Thailand wrote to the WTO on Feb. 26 seeking the removal of the agenda item, saying that such discussions fall outside the required timeframe.

Travel & Tourism

Tourism operators want two-week Thai lockdown Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2020
Tourism operators are urging the state to impose a two-week lockdown to keep the coronavirus from spreading to provincial areas. The Thai Federation of Provincial Tourist Associations (TFOPTA) plans to propose the lockdown at a meeting of all tourism-related associations today, seeking approval from other tourism businesses.

Tourism Ministry hopes for post-virus bounce Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2020
The Tourism and Sports Ministry is expecting 36.9 million foreign tourists to visit Thailand this year if the Covid-19 outbreak grinds to a halt by next month. In case the virus is gone by April, the country can expect a maximum of 36.9 million foreign tourists to visit the country throughout the year, generating 1.78 trillion baht. Thai Hotels Association also noted that said tourists have almost disappeared from hotels, with only 10% occupancy.

Thailand cancels visa on arrival for 18 countries, visa exemptions for 3 Bangkok Post 11th Mar 2020
Thailand on Wednesday temporarily cancelled the grant of visa on arrival for 18 countries and visa exemption for three others to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The 18 countries are: Bulgaria, Bhutan, China (including Taiwan), Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Malta, Mexico, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Vanuatu. Visa exemption will be cancelled for South Korea, Italy and Hong Kong.

'We have to be resilient': Tourism in Thailand plummets amidst the coronavirus outbreak Business Insider 11th Mar 2020
The  Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced on March 9 that tourist arrivals plummeted by 44.3% in February, the Bangkok Post reports. TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said that the country is bracing for millions fewer foreign tourists in 2020 compared to 2019, anticipating a drop to 30 million from last year's 39.8 million. 

Worst case scenario - Thailand loses 10 million tourists this year The Thaiger 10th Mar 2020
Thailand’s tourist industry could be decimated in the wake of the world coronavirus outbreak. Tourism accounts for an estimated 16% of Thailand’s total GDP. The Tourism Authority of Thailand governor, Yutthasak Supasorn, says that, in a worst case scenario, Thailand could bleed 10 million of it’s projected 40 million tourist arrivals this year. He says his estimates were based on whether the Covid-19 outbreak is not contained soon. In the worst case, the number could fall to 30 million foreign tourists or about 10 million lower than last year. From January 25 – February 29, the number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand decreased by 40% compared to the same period last year. Not surprisingly, 81% of the drop was the Chinese tourist market. As for revenue from foreign tourists, the estimated drop is 1.5 billion baht this year, or about three-quarters of last year’s total revenue.

Tourist arrivals plummet 44.3% in February due to coronavirus Bangkok Post 10th Mar 2020
The number of tourist arrivals in Thailand fell 44.3% in February from a year earlier, due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said on Monday. Visitors from China, Thailand's biggest source of tourists, tumbled 85.3%, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told a meeting of tourism operators. In the worst-case scenario, the number of foreign tourists may fall to 30 million this year from last year's 39.8 million, with spending down 22%, "if the virus situation bottoms in May," he said. Tourism is crucial to Thailand as spending by foreign visitors amounted to 1.93 trillion baht last year, or 11% of gross domestic product (GDP). The government said last week it will seek cabinet approval on Tuesday for a $3.2 billion stimulus package to ease the virus impact.