SMEs offer timid support of restart
Plan must include Covid safeguards
The Federation of Thai SME has voiced cautious support of the government's plan to reopen the tourism industry in October, stressing the need to juggle economic restoration with safeguards against new Covid-19 outbreaks.
More tourists arrivals are crucial to resuscitate the economy, but more outbreaks will be disproportionately felt by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are already reeling from the pandemic impact since last year, the federation said.
"We agree with the government's plan to kick-start the sluggish economy, but there is concern about a new wave of Covid-19," said Sangchai Theerakulwanich, chairman of the federation.
Reopening the tourism industry will put Thailand on a fast track to recover from the economic slowdown, said Mr Sangchai.
To reopen the country, the government must implement preventive measures against the spread of the highly contagious virus, he said.
Ministries were instructed to find areas with potential to be part of the "Covid-free Tourist Area Sandbox," similar to the Phuket sandbox, according to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
Five provinces -- Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Phetchaburi and Chon Buri -- are likely to be selected to join the reopening programme.
The prime minister recently ordered ministries to speed up preparations to increase tourism, maintaining Covid-19 protocols to avoid a new outbreak.
Public health officials have raised concerns over the possibility of the healthcare system being overwhelmed by another outbreak if the reopening scheme is not handled carefully.
"The government should speed up administration of second vaccine doses to the public to build confidence among foreign travellers and ensure people can access antigen test kits by capping their prices below 100 baht," said Mr Sangchai.
The federation wants the government to help SMEs by suspending their debt payments, including principal and interest, for six months, as well as set up funds to help SMEs that cannot access soft loans from the government or banks to restart their business.