Thailand is likely to take up to three years to return to normal economic conditions, similar to 2019, following the pandemic, according to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).
Speaking at a seminar titled "New Normal for Business Sector" held by the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC), Somkiat Tangkitvanich, TDRI's president, said this economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus outbreak is expected to be bigger than the 2008 global financial crisis.
"Whether this crisis becomes more serious than the Great Depression of the 1930s is unknown," he said.
"Nonetheless, TDRI expects it will take a year to 18 months to make and distribute a vaccine, and up to three years for the Thai economy to return to 2019 levels."
According to Mr Somkiat, Thailand is in a transitional period, with lockdown measures starting to ease and many businesses allowed to reopen.
However, he insisted tight control measures are still needed to curb a second wave of the outbreak.
The business sector needs to come up with new business practices to adapt to a changing business environment.
Mr Somkiat warned the pandemic is expected to increase trade barriers, citing US allegations that China started the pandemic and proposals of retaliation, including encouraging other countries to call for compensation from China.
"The chance of a renewed trade war is highly likely, as several countries have negative feelings about China, which will result in more protectionist measures," he said.
"Thai operators need to prepare for more trade tensions."
With the government having to spend heavily on battling the virus and rehabilitating the battered economy, Mr Somkiat said new large-scale infrastructure projects are likely to be delayed, while higher tax collections are expected, leading to lower profits for the business sector and household wealth.
He said the pandemic led to changes such as work-from-home practices, citing the TDRI's survey of 136 employees that found they could reduce their combined expenses by 2.1 million baht, or about 16,000 baht per person per month.
Employees reported less time wasted on commuting, a better quality of life and engaging in more exercise.
"This is a new challenge for organisations, as they have to place trust in and give freedom to employees working from home," said Mr Somkiat.
"New businesses and services are likely to flourish such as 5G and online learning systems. The public sector needs to promote the transition to work-from-home practices and adopt more approval processes via electronic systems and digital signatures.
Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the TCC, said after the government announced the first and second phases of easing lockdown measures and relief packages, the chamber is optimistic unemployed workers will drop below the 7 million projected during the lockdown.