The second country, after China, to report a COVID-19 case, Thailand has experienced tumultuous economic and social fluctuations following the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2020. Thailand was particularly impacted in late 2020 and early 2021, during which the nation suffered from high unemployment rates, reduced incomes and increased food insecurity. Consequently, the pandemic plunged an estimated 800,000 people into poverty in Thailand.
Exacerbated Economic Ramifications
At a glance, Thailand’s GDP fell by 6.1% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thailand saw an eight-point decline in unemployment in urban areas and based on a 2020 World Bank survey, 50% of respondents reported that the pandemic negatively affected their jobs. Similarly, 70% of respondents reported a decline in household income, with the pandemic hitting rural, low-income households the hardest.
The country’s tourism sector, accounting for 20% of nationwide employment and a fifth of the nation’s GDP, faced stagnant tourism flows amid travel bans. Consequently, Thailand’s tourism slowdown significantly affected low-skilled workers, particularly women and children, in the tourism industry.
Government Initiatives Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
In light of pandemic adversities, the Thai government responded swiftly to mitigate the crisis. A policy package, consisting of a fiscal stimulus equivalent to 10% of GDP helped the nation avoid an economic and social crisis. The World Bank reported that 780,000 additional people would have fallen into poverty without the Thai government’s introduction of financial packages.
The government’s “No One Left Behind” program in 2020 also helped mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand; the government provided 80% of farming households with monthly cash transfers. In addition, the introduction of a farmers’ assistance program reached 63% of the government’s target audience.
The Current Status of Poverty Levels in Thailand
Thailand’s road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic remains promising. The unemployment rate declined by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2022 and estimates indicate that poverty levels should decline to the country’s pre-pandemic levels. Overall, the country’s economy is projected to expand by 2.9% by the end of 2022. Notably, more than 57.3 million people, more than 80% of Thailand’s overall population, have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Nonetheless, while Thailand’s economic and social sectors have improved since 2020, the nation is still facing the impacts of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand. According to the World Bank, Thai households’ average labor income has declined while household debt has increased by 25%, resulting in increased loans to support lifestyles.
Thailand is continuing to increase its vaccination rates and boost its tourism sector to revitalize its economy. As of October 1, 2022, the Tourism of Authority of Thailand has lifted Thailand’s border restrictions, allowing travelers to visit Thailand without proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Additionally, in August 2022, the Thai government extended the previously 30-day tourist stay in Thailand to 45 days.
Amid Thailand’s reintroduction of tourism, future poverty levels remain elusive. Granting visitors extended stay without proof of a COVID-19 test could potentially bring a new wave of cases to the nation. Nonetheless, Thailand’s revitalized tourism sector will surely help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand. Hopefully, increased tourism will reinvigorate Thailand’s slow economy, declining poverty levels and boosting household income for good.
– Emma He