Operators call for two-week lockdown
published : 18 Mar 2020 at 04:00
newspaper section: Business
writer: Dusida Worrachaddejchai
Tourism operators are urging the state to impose a two-week lockdown to keep the coronavirus from spreading to provincial areas and creating a deeper impact on the economy.
It's not too late to put the country into a complete lockdown, closing both land and air connections for two weeks or up to one month, as an urgent measure to tackle the outbreak, said Chamnan Srisawat, president of the Thai Federation of Provincial Tourist Associations (TFOPTA).
The federation plans to propose the lockdown at a meeting of all tourism-related associations today, seeking approval from other tourism businesses.
Mr Chamnan said the government should impose a lockdown policy as soon as possible before the coronavirus spreads to every part of the country, particularly during Songkran.
Even with the government postponing the April holiday, locals will still be travelling to their hometowns, he said.
While infections have mostly clustered in the capital, authorities still have the capacity to limit the damage. But without any decisive control, the disease could spread throughout the country and more deeply impact the overall economy, Mr Chamnan said.
In addition, the government must prepare enough basic medical supplies such as face masks and hand sanitiser to protect both healthcare workers and people who live in provincial areas, he said.
"The government has to ensure that tourism operators can access funding before they go out of business," Mr Chamnan said.
The TFOPTA has more than 100 members in each province, with about 10,000 members nationwide, consisting mostly of tour agents and hotels.
Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), said a nationwide lockdown to slow the infection rate is needed before the situation gets out of control.
He said that while Thailand is in the second stage, many countries have already sealed their borders, meaning people cannot travel abroad automatically.
The number of foreign tourists using Atta member services from January to March 10 fell by 53% to 544,506.
During March 1-10, the number plunged 88.1% to just 155,159 tourists.
Mr Vichit said border closures will allow the country to get a deep clean. If Thailand can get the outbreak under control quickly, the country will be among the first to be ready for the rebound.
"I am not so sure whether a lockdown would effectively get rid of the virus, but it will slow down the infection rate," said Yodchai Sudhidhanakul, chief executive of NokScoot.
Mr Yodchai said that while he appreciates the state measures to help airlines, in this instance it may not be possible to fix the problem, which is slack demand.
"For example, reducing air navigation service charges will be useless if there are no flights to operate," he said.
While other low-cost carriers have suspended flights to Japan, NokScoot still operates this route.
Mr Yodchai said the airline has been monitoring the situation on a daily basis.