As COVID-19 spread around the world, Thailand, the second country to report COVID-19 cases, responded with swift and multifaceted schemes that included public health measures, social protection, and fiscal policy. The strict and rapid public health response resulted in keeping the number of COVID-19 cases low in Thailand (3,800 cases and only 59 deaths by September 2020).
In April 2020, the Thai government passed a 1 trillion baht borrowing decree to address health needs, provide relief, and economic recovery. An estimated 44 million Thais have benefitted from this social assistance and social insurance programs during the pandemic. Poverty increased by 0.2 percentage points from 6.2 percent in 2019 to 6.4 percent in 2020. In the absence of the compensation package, poverty would have increased to 7.4 percent in 2020.
Thailand’s economy was projected to start recovering in 2021, however, subsequent waves of COVID-19 infections, emergence of new COVID-19 variants and slow progress in vaccination have triggered new strict containment measures. As a result, economic activity is not expected to recover to its pre-pandemic levels until 2023, with the recovery being slow and the vulnerable group bearing a disproportionate burden.
In understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the Thai population, the World Bank, in conjunction with Gallup Poll, conducted a rapid phone survey from April 27 to June 15, 2021. The survey, which involved 2,000 adults aged 18 years and older, was conducted using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI), in which respondents used a telephone line to answer individual and household questions, such as employment, income, food security, access to health services and COVID-19 vaccine, and education.
As the fourth wave of COVID-19 hit Thailand in 2021, the recovery within vulnerable groups has slowed down and borne a disproportionate burden. National employment has remained at a stable level of 68% since the onset of the pandemic, though there were variations between regions and population groups. While employment in urban areas declined, it increased in rural areas as people who lost their jobs in the cities went back to work in agriculture. Fifty percent of the respondents’ jobs were disrupted due to COVID-19, varying from job losses to reduced number of working hours and reduced pay. This significantly affected individuals in low-income households, women, individuals in low education groups, and those in the South. Married women and individuals with children have also been burdened with care work during the pandemic.