Advance Blog

January 19, 2021
Australian Embassy

Headlines summary as of 19 January 2021

News

  • Updates related to COVID-19:
Newly confirmed case(s)Total CasesProvinces with confirmed casesDischarged from hospitalFrom 15 Dec, total confirmed cases from clusters
17112,594609,356 (at 74.29%)8,357
Local transmissionFrom abroadBeing hospitalised/ in field hospital/  quarantinedConfirmed cases in BangkokDeath tollAccumulated cases from active case finding
33+125 (active case finding) + 13 (entering from Myanmar)13 (in SQ)3,168606 [593 reported by BMA yesterday + 13 by CCSA today]704,107
  • There have been significant developments regarding the COVID vaccine:
    • Deputy PM and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul affirmed the people on the safety of the vaccine that Thai people will get, as there are vaccine committee to evaluate the safety. The head of Public Health Minister said Thai vaccine strategy will be that of voluntary basis and that the approval of vaccine will be for emergency usage, not for commercial purposes.—The Standard
    • Private hospital conglomerates are also eyeing to import COVID vaccine from different companies. It needs to get Food and Drug Administration approval first. Details are as followed:
      • Thonburi Health Care Holdings to import 1 million doses from Chinese Sino Vac to jab health officials (200 thousands) and other patients (800 thousands).
      • Principal Capital to decide on the company to jab health officials (7,000).
      • Vibhavadhi to import 60,000 doses from Moderna, aiming to offer the rate of 6,000 – 10,000 THB per dose.—Krungthep Turakij Reuters
    • Yesterday, the deputy secretary-general of Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) informed the public that vaccine developer AstraZeneca has filed its documents for FDA approval. It is expected to take a week for the approval process. The deputy FDA head said if approved, it would help fasten the registration process of domestic AstraZeneca vaccine production organised by Siam Bioscience Co. However, private hospitals cannot import the Astra Zeneca vaccine, as the company indicated that it will supply only to Thai government.—Thai News Agency, Manager
  • After the earlier report by the Immigration Bureau spokesperson that a negative COVID-19 test result will be mandatory for every foreigner who wishes to extend their stay in Thailand, the Immigration Bureau apologised for the misunderstanding and said that it might apply only to certain types of visa, most likely the permanent resident visa.—Khao Sod English

Politics

  • In the other act of defiant against the King, former leader of the defunct Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit raised the question of conflict of interest in the preferential treatment on SinoVac and AstraZenaca vaccines. Thanathorn said big conglomerate Chareon Pokkaphan (CP) has 15 percent of stocks in the SinoVac production company. As for AstraZeneca vaccine which Thai Siam Bioscience has the sole rights to reproduce the vaccine locally and for export, he said the company owned entirely by King Maha Vajiralongkorn (formerly under Crown Property Bureau). The former party leader popular among younger populations questioned why Siam Bioscience which has been performing in deficit for many years is selected as the sole company to produce the biggest lot to vaccinate Thai population.– Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit The criticism seems to hit the very bull’s eye as authorities have come out to bombard Thanathorn:
    • Public Health senior officials held an ad hoc press conference against Thanathorn’s Facebook Live. The officials condemned Thanathorn of not having accurate and adequate information, citing Siam Bioscience as the sole Thai pharmaceutical company to be able to develop and reproduce the Astra Zeneca viral vector vaccine. Th director of National Vaccine Institute said it is Astra Zeneca that chose Siam Bioscience as its partner, not the government’s calls. On the issue of the company performance (deficit), the director said the company follows the footstep of King Rama IX’s philosophy of “the more we lose, the more we get”: the more the company is doing for the greater good of the people, the more deficit the company is running. On the issue of conflict of interest, the senior health official said even though the pharmaceutical company that was established by King Rama IX had received government budget in producing the vaccine, the company has expressed its intention on giving back all funding as vaccines to Thailand. The permanent-secretary of the Public Health Minister reminded Thai people of the benevolence of the Thai monarchy in providing for Thai people and condemned the critic of tarnishing the well-beloved monarchical institution.—Ministry of Public Health FB Live
    • The PM gave an interview to the media that there is no single vaccine producer that could monopolise the Thai market. He affirmed that Thailand is open to all vaccine producers, not limited to that of Astra Zeneca.–Matichon
    • The PM said in press briefing after weekly cabinet meeting that the criticism is a distortion and he said that the government will prosecute any misinformation on the internet.
    • Deputy PM and Public Health Minister said the critic of the Siam Bio Science knew anything but to be grateful to the monarchy’s benevolence.–Prachachat
  • In an unexpected move, the National Reconciliation Committee introduced by the House Speaker has nominated Thoedpong Chaiyanan, veteran Democrat MP, as the head of the committee set up with the objective to resolve the fresh political conflicts. Mr Thoepong was named the chairperson without any other candidate. The committee is scheduled to meet again next Monday.–Prachachat
    • Earlier it is expected that General Chaicharn, Deputy Defence Minister will be nominated as the chairperson.–Matichon
  • Today the Criminal Court has sentenced a woman to 87 years in jail Tuesday for violating the country’s lese majeste law. The lady was convicted of sharing online a secret recording discussing about the monarch and Thai history. This is, by far, the longest sentencing for the crime under the current administration.—Thai Enquirer

Analysis/opinion

  • International security pundit Associate Professor Dr.Thitinan Pongsudhirak discussed on the new Biden administration and its implication on Thailand. He said Biden administration is Obama 2.0, judging from many familiar faces from Obama administration. The challenge Thai economic sector is to get the connections with both the US and China as the two are decoupling from each other. The international relations pundit regarded Thailand as a minute pawn in international political context. Thai government will face greater stumble from the Biden administration which seems to place priority on human rights and democratic election. He said if Thailand would like to strengthen relations with the US, it needs to be more democratic. The re-enforcement of Article 112 is an unacceptable thing for international community and would, in turn, put pressure on Thai government.–Prachachat

Economic:

Tourism

  • Foreign arrival figures have failed to meet even rock-bottom expectations of Thailand’s Special Tourist Visa (STV) scheme, partly because of the lengthy 14-day quarantine mandatory requirement.  Just 346 overseas visitors entered Thailand on average each month on STV since October. That’s well below the government’s target of about 1,200 and a tiny fraction of the more than 3 million who came before the pandemic.  The lack of interest is adding pressure on Thai policymakers, who have struggled to accommodate both industry players calling for relaxed quarantine rules and public-health experts warning against putting its citizens in danger. All the while, as the beaches stay empty, many tourism-related companies are going out of business.  At least 931 registered tourism-related companies closed last year, according to a data from the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Business Development. The real number is probably much higher as many tourism businesses aren’t registered in any database.  Source:  Bloomberg
  • The Tourism Department reported that last year, some 2,598 tour operators returned their licenses and exited the market permanently in 2020.  In fact, deregistration saw the highest record in Q4 last year with 765 companies in total, peaking in December where 293 companies returned their licenses.  Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) concluded that 10 percent of outbound operators have given up their licenses in December and 65-70 percent of outbound agents have closed indefinitely.  TTAA added that the outlook for outbound market is the most difficult to predict because the industry faces high uncertainty.  Source: Bangkok Post

Others

  • The Thai Retailers Association (TRA) reported that its retail index plunged by -12 percent in 2020, which translates into a loss of around 500 billion Baht.  The TRA’s retail index in Q1 of 2021 is expected to continue falling by -7 to -8 percent due to the resurgence in COVID-19 infection.  The retail industry is crucial to the Thai economy, with 1.3 million operators employing 6.2 million people.  The TRA has called for the government to implement 5 measures to minimise the loss of this sector, such as collecting VAT and import tax on e-commerce transactions, which could fetch 300 billion Baht worth of state revenue.  The government should also offer hourly employment; this option would reduce overall redundancies as it allows retailers to manage manpower for peak and off-peak hours.  Through this option, the retail sector could immediately employ 52,000 people.  Sources:  Khao Sod Matichon Bangkok Post
  • The Bank of Thailand and Finance Ministry are set to discuss about amending the Soft Loan Royal Decree to enable SMEs to better access loans.  The most important amendment is to waive the requirement that SMEs must be bank customers in order to be eligible the loan, as well as raise the soft loan interest rate from 2 to 5 percent to incentivise commercial banks to extend the soft loans.  A Finance Ministry source speculates that state-owned banks must still play a prominent role in providing the loans to SMEs, as these Soft Loan Royal Decree amendments are not enticing enough for commercial banks to grant the loans.  Of the Bank of Thailand’s 500 billion Baht soft loan offered last year, 120 billion Baht was disbursed to SME borrowers.  Source:  Krungthep Turakij  Bangkok Post
  • The Federation of Thai Industry anticipates that domestic steel consumption will grow by 5-8 percent this year, fuelled by the government’s infrastructure projects.  This is especially prominent in the EEC area where many construction projects are underway, in addition to the high-speed and electric trains in Bangkok and the periphery areas.  Domestic demand for steel demand in 2021 is expected to surpass last year’s, as delayed construction projects are resuming this year.  Source:  Bangkok Post
  • The Thai-Chinese joint venture company, SAIC Motor-CP, expects domestic sales of its MG car to grow 40 percent YoY to 42,000 units under the expectation of a speedy rollout of COVID-19 vaccination worldwide.  Similarly, the Chinese carmaker Great Wall Motors, reported an all-time high in annual car sales volume, having sold 1.11 million units of vehicles globally in 2020.   Its sales in December 2020 totalled 150,109 vehicles, an increase of 41.6 percent YoY.  Source:  Bangkok Post
The Australian Embassy Bangkok
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