Firms eye partial lockdown
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Firms eye partial lockdown

Nationwide closures cause major harm

Traffic is sparse on Phaya Thai Road in the central business district of Bangkok on Sunday because of the latest Covid-19 outbreak in the capital. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
Traffic is sparse on Phaya Thai Road in the central business district of Bangkok on Sunday because of the latest Covid-19 outbreak in the capital. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

Local businesses favour a partial lockdown, especially in areas with severe infection numbers to reduce the economic impact.

Many business leaders warn a total nationwide lockdown would cause huge losses for the country's economy and massive harm for enterprises.

Careful vetting

Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the group disagrees with reinstating nationwide restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, as happened during the first wave last year.

He said the impact would be enormous and the business sector cannot tolerate any more total lockdowns.

Mr Sanan proposed the government introduce tighter measures for provinces with severe outbreaks, while speeding up mass vaccination for as many people as possible.

Boonyong Tansakul, chief executive of Zen Corporation Plc, the operator of Zen Japanese restaurant, Tummour and AKA chain, agreed, saying huge losses are anticipated if the government reinstates a nationwide lockdown.

"At the end of June, the government announced a ban on dining in at restaurants. It seems we are already in a partial lockdown," Mr Boonyong said.

He insisted the only way to control the pandemic spread is to speed up mass vaccination, with a emphasis on crowded, urban areas.

If the government insists on total lockdown measures, it should offer remedies for affected people and businesses, either through soft loans or subsidies for fixed costs, said Mr Boonyong.

Inoculation management

Kobsak Pootrakool, former minister to the Prime Minister's Office and current senior executive vice-president at Bangkok Bank, said he supports new travel curbs and tighter restrictions in high-risk areas, calling them essential to contain the spread of infections.

However, he admitted the government must improve its inoculation management.

"A delay in implementing tighter restrictions may cause chaos, as happened in India and Britain, resulting in drastic damage to the Thai economy," said Mr Kobsak.

He also suggested the government implement lockdown measures only in high-risk provinces, such as Bangkok and surrounding provinces, for 14 days.

Tighter curbs can be introduced in other provinces if the infection rates there surge.

Mr Kobsak brushed aside concerns about state spending to help people and businesses affected by the virus, noting the government still has room to raise the public debt ceiling from 60% of GDP.

"If the government wants to revise its fiscal sustainability framework ceiling of 60% and allow borrowing of an additional 500-600 billion baht, it can do so without amending any laws," he said.

Mr Kobsak said the government must speed up the vaccination rate and provide people with better quality vaccines as soon as possible. He proposed the government buy as many quality vaccines as possible to supply both public and private hospitals.

"If people nationwide are vaccinated by the fourth quarter, they can resume their normal life and consumption, boosting the economic recovery by early next year," said Mr Kobsak.

He urged the government to ask for more cooperation from the private sector to support spending on vaccine purchases for their workers.

Airlines grounded

Nuntaporn Komonsittivate, head of commercial operations at Thai Lion Air (TLA), said the airline is ready to follow any government measures regarding virus containment.

If the government imposes rigid restrictions on inter-provincial travel, as happened in April last year during the nationwide lockdown, its passenger numbers will plummet, she said.

However, passenger numbers are already low. TLA frequencies fell by 30% compared with the peak months before the second and third waves of outbreaks, while the average load factor for all 13 routes was below 60%, said Ms Nuntaporn.

"We'll definitely feel the impact from more stringent measures, but we have to accept them if the government believes the rules will improve the situation. The government must announce any measures clearly and allow airlines and passengers to prepare in advance," she said.

Ms Nuntaporn said the reopening of Phuket cannot stimulate domestic tourism sentiment immediately as the load factor for TLA's two Bangkok-Phuket daily flights is only 50%. The airline does not plan to adjust any flight schedules until the government makes a ruling, she said.

"Even if the government announces lockdown measures like last year, airlines can still serve passenger demand for those who have necessary travel and are allowed to fly," said Ms Nuntaporn.

Support measures

The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) and the Employers' Confederation of Thai Trade and Industry (EconThai) both support the lockdown proposal, but want clear travel restriction rules and relief measures to help affected businesses.

Thailand's economy may suffer temporarily to gain long-term benefits from curbing the virus spread, said FTI vice-chairman Kreingkrai Thiennukul.

The government should aid employers in keeping their workers, said EconThai vice-chairman Tanit Sorat.

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