Why COVID-19 Will Worsen Inequality in Thailand

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Thailand’s capital was the world’s most visited city. Now Bangkok’s once-bustling streets are quiet. With its struggling economy, the timing of the crisis could not be worse for Thailand. Exports have been falling since 2019 while the GDP growth rate remained one of the lowest in Southeast Asia since 2014. These trends will worsen in the coming months. The government predicts the economy will contract by 5.3 percent while the International Monetary Fund estimate is even worse, foreseeing a 6.7 percent drop in GDP. Either scenario would make Thai economy the worst affected in the ASEAN region.

To be sure, everyone in Thailand is being affected by the sudden economy-wide disruption — from big business houses like the Central group to petty traders and day laborers. But the hardest hit are thousands of tuk tuk drivers and street vendors in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya who are jobless following the shutdown of the country’s $60 billion tourism sector. The COVID-19 outbreak will only deepen inequality in Thai society.

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M Niaz Asadullah and Ruttiya Bhula-or