The government is considering giving financial assistance to people affected by the latest outbreak of Covid-19, government sources revealed on Monday.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday met for talks with Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow and Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith at Government House.
Also present were Danucha Pichayanan, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council, Budget Bureau director Dechapiwat Na Songkhla, and Kulit Sombatsiri, permanent secretary for energy.
New relief measures to help the business sector and the public were on the agenda in the wake of the latest Covid-19 crisis, sources said.
Expected to be put to the cabinet for approval today are a 4,000-baht cash handout for those in need and the expansion of the existing measures.
The prime minister's official Facebook page later posted that "the meeting discussed economic figures and measures to help affected people, including [cuts in] utility bills".
When asked about the 4,000-baht handouts later on Monday, Mr Supattanapong, who is also energy minister, said: "Wait for the outcome of the cabinet meeting which will be announced at a press briefing."
One of the existing measures is the co-payment scheme which allows registered individuals who buy goods from smaller local shops to pay only half the price of their purchases (of listed essential goods), with the government subsidising the other 50% of the bill.
After the pandemic started to take a toll on the economy in early 2020, the government responded with strict lockdown measures that lasted several months in an effort to curb the outbreak. It also offered a 5,000-baht transfer into the bank accounts of workers employed in the informal sector.
The monthly stipend ran for three months, from April to June, and was provided to temporary workers, contract employees and self-employed workers not covered by the Social Security Act's Section 33.
Gen Prayut on Monday insisted that despite the bleak economic climate the breadth of measures would remain intact this year too.
"The 2022 budget deficit will not affect fiscal discipline and the country's drive to move forward from the crisis caused by the Covid pandemic," Gen Prayut said in televised remarks to civil servants and the public.
The government plans a deficit of 700 billion baht, up from 608.9 billion baht this year.
Next year's budget of 3.1 trillion baht, which was approved by the cabinet on Jan 5, is about 5.6% (185.9 billion baht) lower due to a fall in tax revenue, the prime minister said.
The country begins use of the 2022 budget on Oct 1 this year.
Since next fiscal year's budget is limited, state agencies need to make sure the money is spent efficiently to respond to the current circumstances, Gen Prayut said, adding that information technology can play a role in virtualising governance and saving on fixed costs.
"Expenses that are not urgent should be delayed and any projects where there is doubt about their effectiveness should be scrapped so the money can be diverted," the prime minister said.
He also stressed the need to protect the more vulnerable members of society -- the elderly, children and the disabled -- as they are at most risk of both infection and the financial consequences of the pandemic.
It will also be important to give local authorities more power so they can manage public services and act to reduce poverty in their areas in the most targeted and direct ways possible, Gen Prayut said.
Agencies must also look for other sources of funding and investment into projects such as public-private partnerships like the Thailand Future Fund -- a state-backed infrastructure fund -- to ease the burden on the budget, the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul posted on his official Facebook page that the Public Health Emergency Operation Centre Committee has discussed the possibility of easing restrictions in provinces or areas which have gone seven to 14 days without any new infections being found.
National Security Council secretary-general Gen Natthapon Nakpanich later expressed a similar sentiment, saying that if the public follows health safety protocols, and infections fall, restrictions are expected to be relaxed by the end of this month.