Government must mobilize resources to solve the COVID-19

Government must mobilize resources to solve the COVID-19 crisis and ease people’s suffering in a comprehensive and straight-to-the point manner

Academics from Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) who have been anxiously following the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that the outbreak situation in Thailand may soon enter a critical level as the number of infected and sick people increased by leaps and bounds and tend to be even more rapid in the future. Once the number exceeds the capacity of the country’s health system, the result will be thousands of deaths or more as it has already happened in many countries.

To reduce the loss caused by death and illness and the economic risks caused by unemployment, the spread of the disease, and government measures to prevent the spread which in turn cause other problems such as poverty and crime, we call on the government to take the following actions:

1. The government must have a clear goal in order to prevent the spread of the disease and reduce the impact on public health by allocating sufficient resources to screening, monitoring, and isolating infected patients who are now reported all over the country. Provide medical treatment to high-risk patients. Make sure that sufficient medicines and medical devices are available, and provide special allowances and life and health insurances for medical personnel. This is not the right time to worry about the fiscal status or a short-term economic growth because people’s well-being is more important.

2. The government must provide assistance to affected citizens, especially those with low incomes and no job, in an inclusive and fast manner to efficiently solve the immediate problems.

In this regard, the social security fund should expand the unemployment coverage for the insurers in case that they are told by their employers to stop working or that the government orders businesses to temporarily suspend the operation due to the outbreak. These are direct measures to help the unemployed; however, it does not cover all affected workers because a number of workers, 70% of the total workforce, are not under the unemployment coverage offered by the social security system. (This includes insurers under Section 39 and Section 40, and workers with daily wages such as taxi drivers.)

Therefore, the government should provide help to workers who are outside the unemployment insurance coverage of the social security system by doing the following the steps.

A) Assume that every household in Thailand is entitled to the financial support based on the number of household members; for example, a household with 1-2 members receives 1,500 baht/month, and a household with 3-4 members receives 2,500 baht/month, and a household with more members receives 500 baht more per each of the extra members. The initial financial support measure will last 3 months.

B) The Ministry of Finance screens every member in each household using the 26-criteria database, the same tool used to issue the state welfare cards, to exclude households that should not receive the support, for example, households that own houses or lands worth over 3,000,000 baht and have a total saving over 100,000 baht, or households with an average monthly salary of each member over 15,000 baht. After excluding these households, the number of households entitled to the financial support would be around 6-7 million.

C) Deduct the financial support in A) by the number of household members who are already covered by the unemployment insurance from the social security fund.

We do not suggest the government to rely on the state welfare card database because the said database still needs improvement to be more inclusive. According to a study, 64 percent, or over 4-5 million people with low-income are not included in the database.

The support measure that we propose may result in some citizens receiving the help when they should not, but this imperfection is likely to cause much less social damage than when people who deserve to be helped are neglected supposed the measure were based on the state welfare card database. Additionally, the government and society should communicate to those who are not severely affected by the crisis not to apply for the financial support.

3. The government must consider providing support to businesses, particularly small ones, to prevent them from laying off employees in high-risk groups by partially subsidizing rental fees and employees’ wages.

4. After having provided help according to the above-mentioned measures, the government must cancel irrelevant or redundant support measures, such as lowering electricity and water price, which are now offered indiscriminately.

5. The government must act with care during this crisis, and should not be relieved even if the daily numbers of new cases are lower. On the contrary, the government must act systematically in an emergency situation and avoid running the country as it is in a normal situation. For example, the government should be ready to call a cabinet meeting anytime, even on holidays or outside office hour, and should directly, clearly, and comprehensively communicate with the citizens in order to regain trust and cooperation from them to comply with government measures

This proposal is part of “TDRI Policy Series on Fighting COVID-19”

1Fit-to-fly doesn’t prevent COVID-19 but is an increased burden to Thais abroad
2Beware of violence during pandemic as home may not be a safe place for everyone
3How to lift a lockdown