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19 Apr 2021

Econ Digest

COVID-19 vaccines will determine Thailand’s future

         Thailand has reported a record daily rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases for several consecutive days after entering a new wave of the pandemic. On April 16, 2021, Thailand’s COVID-19 reproduction rate set a record high at 2.28%, which was higher than the world’s average rate at 1.11% and was also higher than that of Africa, Latin America and India, as well as neighbouring countries such as Cambodia. 

         The severity of the outbreak has raised concerns about the availability of hospital beds to accommodate confirmed patients. According to data from the Department of Medical Services, as of April 13, 2021, 3,460 of the 6,185 hospital beds in Greater Bangkok have been used, leaving only 2,725 beds available, which shall be reserved for other critically ill patients as well. If there are still thousands of new confirmed cases every day, the bed resources and medical staff of hospitals and temporary hospitals will inevitably be insufficient to effectively cope with such a high transmission rate. As a result, hospitals may have to choose who receives scarce COVID-19 treatment. Of course, no one wants to see the epidemic in Thailand develop to that level.  

         Therefore, during the development of the pandemic, preventive measures will play a key role in suppressing the spread of infection, including wearing facemasks that meet prespecified standards, maintaining interpersonal distance, maintaining personal hygiene after touching various objects, avoiding unnecessary travel, and working from home. In the meantime, the rollout of vaccines is crucial in forming herd immunity as quickly as possible.  

        In terms of an assessment of the percentage of the population given at least one vaccine dose conducted by Our World in Data, as of April 17, 2021, Thailand’s vaccination rate was at 0.75%, which was lower than that of Malaysia (2.21%), South Korea (2.95%), Indonesia (3.95%) and other countries in the region. However, the Thai government has reiterated its plan to procure 63 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for Thai people within this year, in order to bring Thailand closer to herd immunity. 

       Rapid vaccination is necessary for the following reasons: 

- Ensuring the security of the national health system, which is the top priority for the next 1-2 months while the epidemic is still severe.
- Restoring public confidence. It can be seen that countries with high vaccination rates have better economic indicators and currency trends than those of countries with low vaccination rates. 
- Reviving the economy, especially the tourism sector that is about to enter its peak season at the end of the year. If Thailand wishes to attract foreign tourists this year, the high season in the fourth quarter will probably be the right time, as businesses have enough time to conduct marketing activities in advance, which means Thailand has 3-4 months left to quickly roll out vaccines. But the situation may change since no one can predict whether there will be another outbreak or not after the third wave of COVID-19 resurged in early April, and the past data shows that new variants and new outbreaks occur every 3-4 months.   

Therefore, vaccines are the key solution to achieving national-level herd immunity and avoiding economic downturn risks. On the other hand, economic activities in countries with high vaccination rates are starting to recover, and people’s lives are beginning to return to normal. At present, the Thai government has been requested to allow the private sector to import vaccines, which will not only help speed-up the rollout of vaccines, but also reduce the government’s fiscal burden, as the government still needs to remedy the people affected by the third wave of the pandemic.  

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Econ Digest