Thailand losing B250bn per month as vaccine delayed, MP says

Thailand losing B250bn per month as vaccine delayed, MP says

Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn speaks in Parliament on Wednesday. (Bangkok Post photo)
Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn speaks in Parliament on Wednesday. (Bangkok Post photo)

Thailand’s economic losses from a slow vaccine rollout are seen at about 250 billion baht a month and the delay undermines a faster recovery from the pandemic blow, according to an opposition lawmaker.

The nation is behind many other countries in the region in starting the inoculation programme and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government is responsible for the delay, Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, an MP from the Move Forward party, said on Wednesday.

“Every day the government delays its rollout, the country loses 8.3 billion baht,” Mr Wiroj said while participating in a censure debate against Gen Prayut’s government in parliament on Wednesday. “The vaccination drive isn’t only just about preventing Covid-19, but also about ensuring faster economic recovery.”

The country’s vaccine rollout is unlikely to gain momentum until June as it waits for shots produced by a local drugmaker under a partnership with AstraZeneca Plc. While the country may start receiving some vaccines from Sinovac Biotech Ltd from next week, nearly 97% of its orders are for AstraZeneca shots, which won’t be ready for distribution until late May.

Though Thailand is behind countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and India in the vaccination drive, it expects to inoculate 50% of its 70 million population by the end of the year. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has defended the government’s strategy of not placing orders with multiple vaccine developers, saying Thailand with its low number of infections and status as a middle-income country was not a priority for most suppliers.

‘Not Complacent’

“We’re trying to distribute vaccines as soon as we can,” Mr Anutin said on Wednesday. “I’ve never been complacent. That’s why we have the budget and resources allocated to all necessary agencies,” he told the parliament.

Mr Wiroj said the current vaccine plan will affect the nation’s readiness to fully reopen its borders and slow down a recovery in tourism industry, which made up one-fifth of Thailand’s pre-pandemic economy.

The lawmaker’s warning came on a day when the central bank singled out an uncertain recovery in tourist arrivals as “a major risk” to the medium-term growth outlook. The economy, which shrank the most since 1998 last year, will expand this year “at somewhat a lower rate” than the central bank’s December projection of 3.2%, according to edited minutes of its Monetary Policy Committee.

But Gen Prayut said Thailand had “done a better job of containing the outbreak than many other countries, and we’re trying to do better.” “We had to close our borders and that hurts the economy, but at least we could contain the outbreak. I don’t want vaccines to become a political issue,” he said.

The parliament is scheduled to vote on a no-confidence motion against Gen Prayut and nine of his cabinet ministers on Saturday and the opposition has criticised the government on various issues ranging from budget allocation to handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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