Thailand 1Q slump eases, outlook cut as Covid-19 woes linger

People receive a dose of Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center set up at the Mall Bangkapi shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, May 14, 2021. Thailand plans to inoculate the majority of the adult population in Bangkok in the coming months to quell a flareup in virus infections thats made the capital city the epicenter of the nations biggest Covid-19 outbreak. - Bloomberg

BANGKOK: Thailand's economy shrank in the first quarter as Covid-19 outbreaks hurt consumption and tourism, but the fall was less than expected helped by stronger non-agricultural output and exports.

Southeast Asia's second-largest economy contracted 2.6% in the March quarter from a year earlier, data from the National Economic and Social Development Council showed on Monday, versus a forecast 3.3% drop in a Reuters poll.

On a quarterly basis, gross domestic product (GDP) rose a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in the first quarter, beating the 0.8% drop forecast by economists.

In the final quarter of 2020, the economy shrank 4.2% from a year earlier but expanded a revised 1.1% on the quarter.

The planning agency downgraded its economic growth outlook for a second time this year to 1.5%-2.5% from 2.5%-3.5% seen three months ago due to the latest wave of infections, the country's biggest so far.

The latest outbreak, which started in April and has accounted for more than two thirds of Thailand's total infections, has crimped domestic activity amid the country's slow vaccine rollout as it was preparing to reopen more broadly to foreign visitors.

Increased exports, a key growth driver, have lent some support, however.

The NESDC now expects exports to rise 10.3% this year, rather than increase 5.8%.

But it forecasts just half a million foreign tourists this year, down from an earlier forecast of 3.2 million arrivals. That compared with nearly 40 million foreign visitors in 2019.

The government has supported the economy with various stimulus measures and earlier this month approved an additional relief package worth 255 billion baht to help people cope with the latest outbreak. ($1 = 31.36 baht) - Reuters

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