Private sector seeks curfew clarity
Measure raises logistics concerns
With Tuesday's announcement by the government that a state of emergency will go into effect on Thursday, possibly leading to a curfew and a number of other travel restrictions, businesses once again have been left scrambling to adjust to the fast-changing conditions of the Covid-19 crisis.
While the announcement was scant on details, the possibility of a curfew poses yet another hurdle to a private sector already dealing with intense logistical challenges from the coronavirus outbreak.
Not only will the curfew inhibit the lives of individuals growing restless from quarantine, but it raises serious questions of how it will affect supply chains and companies that operate at night and provide essential services like transport and logistics -- or even food deliveries.
In response, businesses are calling on the government to provide more clarity in order to limit the uncertainty plaguing markets around the world.
Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the organisation is in favour of the government's plan to announce a curfew to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Thailand.
"If the government uses the curfew, all details must be clearly laid out or people may panic again," he said.
The FTI is urging the government to let transport and logistics systems move freely during the curfew to avoid shortages of essential goods.
The federation is also calling on the government to halt public transport services such as buses, trains and aeroplanes to prevent people leaving Bangkok and spreading the disease to the rest of Thailand.
"The curfew measures for the spread of the coronavirus outbreak will have a positive effect on the economy, as reducing the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak supersedes the possibility of a political crisis," Mr Supant said.
Tanit Sorat, vice-chairman of the Employers' Confederation of Thai Trade and Industry (EconThai), said the organisation agrees with the government's emergency decree and potential curfew measures.
"It's good for Thailand to prevent the spread of the coronavirus because many provinces have been infected since people moved out of Bangkok to other provinces," he said.
Like the FTI, EconThai wants the government to allow transport and logistics to maintain access to food and consumer goods to avoid shortages and panics.
MAINTAINING SUPPLY CHAINS
Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, cheered the emergency declaration but urged the government to make exceptions for logistics operators.
Industrial factories that make daily-use products and food should be allowed to operate as usual, he said, adding that most factories have already put in place preventive measures against the spreading virus.
Ghanyapad Tantipipatpong, chairwoman of the Thai National Shippers' Council, said the government should expand on the details of the emergency order and clarify how it will help slow the outbreak.
The government needs to work closely with all state units both at the central and provincial levels to ensure they work in the same direction, Ms Ghanyapad said.
"We would like to ask whether the government has prepared in advance medical facilities in the provinces if the number of patients abruptly rises, because more than 100,000 people have already left Bangkok ahead of the order and scattered across provinces nationwide," she said.
Thanavath Phonvichai, president of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the emergency decree will help reduce the number of Covid-19 cases. Additionally, he expects the central bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to cut the policy interest rate by 25 basis points at Wednesday's meeting.
Mr Tanit said he has faith in the average Thai citizen to be aware of the pandemic and the need for strict measures. He said the government will present guidelines and support for the emergency decree to reduce confusion, though the decree will likely have adverse affects on the economy.
His expectation is for the economy to contract by 1-2% in the first two quarters.
Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), echoed the above sentiment and said a uniform message is essential to allow people to plan ahead.
He said it was not too late to consider even stronger measures to further reduce the spread of the virus.
Vittakarn Chandavimol, chief of corporate strategy and creation at AP Thailand Plc, said property market sentiment was shocked by the many measures issued by the government.
"It is still unpredictable," he said. "Many developers cannot evaluate a clear impact from Covid-19, but they need to manage their own cash flow amid this crisis."
Paiboon Nalinthrangkurn, chairman of the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations, said the government stimulus package, which will give 5,000 baht per month in handouts to 3 million people, is appropriate for now.
The move will help support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and labourers in need of cash for daily expenses, he said. The government will also offer 60 billion baht in special loans, as well as 10 billion baht in lending to business operators affected by the virus.
"These measures will help people and SMEs as a temporary remedy during the first three months of the crisis," Mr Paiboon said. "If the situation worsens, it is believed that the government will unveil more measures."
The first phase of the Covid-19 stimulus package combining tax benefits and soft loans approved earlier this month is expected to inject about 400 billion baht into the economy, said Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank Thai.
One problem is that tourism operators have been unable to access these funds, he said.
Deja Tulananda, executive chairman of Bangkok Bank, said he would also like to see more details of the emergency decree, especially the specific measures that will be used to stop the spread of the virus. He voiced support for the government's financial assistance to those impacted by the pandemic.
Apinant Klewpatinond, chief executive of Kiatnakin Bank, said practical guidelines and the expected time frame for the state of emergency would help. He said the government should implement relief measures to businesses and employees hurt by the order.
Anon Vangvasu, president of the Thai General Insurance Association, also backed the emergency measures, highlighting the government's actions to help low-income earners, particularly self-employed workers.
"Thais should cooperate [if the government issues a stay-at-home order], as it will only be a temporary measure and I think people are still able to go out for a certain period," he said.
The state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said it's willing to comply with a curfew as part of the national policy to curb the outbreak, ensuring that the country's power supply will remain sound.
Governor Viboon Rerksirathai said Egat is organising professional reserve teams to take over operations in case a large number of staff can't work, as a means to ensure effective power control management.
Millions of Thais will be working from home, so the stability of the power transmission system is critical.
"Egat is monitoring the outbreak situation of Covid-19 with strict preventive measures to make sure it does not affect our operations and the power security of the country," Mr Viboon said.
Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, urged major mobile operators to focus on putting up 5G cellular networks at major hospitals instead of other locations that had been previously planned.
This would facilitate communication with hospital staff, he said, adding that efforts are needed to push forward smart healthcare schemes and telemedicine via the 5G network.
Meanwhile, Pratthana Leelapanang, chief consumer business officer of Advanced Info Service, the country's biggest mobile operator, said AIS will reinforce its network to boost capacity of 5G, 4G, 3G, WiFi and internet broadband services to cater to users working from home.
The company is also reinforcing its engineering and customer service teams to stand by around the clock to ensure network efficiency nationwide.