Battered by Covid-19, Thais fight to stay afloat


People receive the first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine against the coronavirus disease as Thailand start a mass inoculation at a gymnasium inside the Siam paragon Shopping centre in Bangkok, Thailand. - Reuters

BANGKOK, June 14 (Xinhua): Thailand's economy has taken a knock as Covid-19 cut off travel to the tourism-reliant country and shuttered commerce, leaving people there trying hard to eke out a living to survive the pandemic-triggered downturn.

In the capital Bangkok, Wichayuth Ketupanya, a 55-year-old Thai airlines captain, remembered the surreal feeling last March when nearly all passenger travel was shut down. He was grounded then, earning only one tenth of what he used to earn.

Having weathered various crises including SARS, bird flu, floods and political turbulence in his 30-year career, Wichayuth said "this time is different. The Covid-9 shock has hit everyone, and no one knows when this will end."

All Wichayuth's family members worked in the aviation industry, one of the hardest-hit industry during the pandemic. COVID-19 threw the previously prosperous household into financial distress.

Wichayuth was lucky to fly again, but with sharply reduced flight schedules, and he had to support his family by selling grilled sausage at a food stall and also online.

"The economy is worse than last year and people are more reluctant to spend," he said, busy with preventing the sausages from burning by flare-ups from dripping fat, a tricky task he has mastered after over one year of practice.

Foot traffic remained light amid social-distancing rules and continued restrictions, making it harder for Wichayuth's sausage business to profit. He had to find additional income by selling batik clothes that he and his wife made at home.

"The challenge may not be solved swiftly. What we can do now is to bite the bullet and work hard, waiting for things to get better," he said.

Covid-19 plunged Thailand into the worst economic recession in more than two decades last year, with its key growth drivers, tourism and trade, remaining hobbled.

In a recent report, the Bank of Thailand, the country's central bank, warned that the economy may not return to pre-pandemic growth levels until early 2023 due to the third wave of outbreak.

A surge in Covid-19 infections since early April has seen deaths from the viral disease soar more than 14-fold in the country and prompted the government to tighten restrictions in hotspot regions.

To support people and businesses affected by the pandemic, the government provided soft loans, offered subsidies for the purchase of eligible goods and services, and scaled back restrictive measures quickly after the pandemic situation stabilized.

In some cities, easing restrictive measures has helped some businesses return to generating incomes, but it did not help Kupachakar Pongpasathorn, owner of two gyms in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

"During the height of the pandemic, I had to shut the gyms, without any incomes; when the Covid-19 situation stabilized and gyms could re-open, our clients rarely came to exercise due to concerns over the safety of indoor environment," Kupachakar said.

Kupachakar tried various ways to make money, and decided to sell durian last March. "At that time, it was durian season and durians were sold like hot cakes," she said.

To woo customers, Kupachakar let the fitness coaches in her gyms pick and choose durians, and provide delivery services. The strategy has paid off, with the business becoming a going concern.

"Over the past year, we have learned how to differentiate the durians and how to communicate with customers. Our sales continue to grow and we have made about 100,000 baht (US$3,215) a month during this year's durian season," she said.

Eager to expand the business, Kupachakar planned to cooperate with travel agencies. "I hope when Thailand welcomes back foreign tourists, they can come to my store to have a taste of the durians."

"Things may not be the same anymore. It would not be easy, but we have to adjust ourselves to survive the hard times," she said. - Xinhua
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