Prayut says government has only enough money to pay one month of aid to those affected by coronavirus; Phuket governor reshuffled

The government will consider easing lockdown measures as coronavirus infection numbers continue to fall, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said on Wednesday.

“The number of new confirmed cases is gradually declining in past days and we will use this as an indicator of whether we can ease up on some measures or not,” Prayut said.

“I ask people for more time to consider the possibility [of easing up] since we have to be cautious when the risk is still high,” he said.

Prayut, who also chairs the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), said that the decision to ease restrictions will be made a week before the deadline to extend the current State of Emergency on April 26.

He added that if the lockdown is to be lifted, there is a need to come up with measures that makes sure there is no second wave of infections.

As for the 5,000 baht per month cash handout to workers left behind by the outbreak, Prayut said the government currently now has enough budget for the payout in the first month only.

The cost for the scheme is estimated to be around 135 billion baht. 

He said the central budget is drying up but the government is already siphoning 10 per cent of every government agency to come up with the money; however, this will not be available until June.

The cabinet has already approved the emergency loan decree worth 1 trillion baht which should be available around the end of April or the beginning of May.

The PM explained that there are 37 million people in the country’s workforce. Of that, 9 million people are informal, 11 million people are registered within the social security system, and 17 million are farmers. This means that not everyone can be compensated.

“I am sad and I sympathize and I am more anxious than you,” he said.

“But we have to face the reality that the initial budget from the central budget was set at 50 billion baht for 3 million people which would be enough to pay out the compensation for up to 3 months or 15,000 baht per person.

“However, since the number of people who have registered online for the scheme has surpassed 9 million, the government now only has for the first month.   

Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan told reporters after the cabinet meeting that the government is now asking all agencies to cut its investment budget by 50 per cent and traveling overseas budget by 25 per cent to help the government come up with extra funds to support its various relief measures.

A committee that consists of 10 permanent secretaries, the chief of police and the secretary-general of the Fiscal Policy Office has been set up to ensure the efficiency and the transparency of the implementation of the government relief measures.

SSO

The Social Security Office (SSO) announced on Tuesday that its board agreed that the outbreak of the coronavirus is “an unforeseeable event” which is leading a surge in unemployment and thus constitutes an emergency.

This allows the SSO to pay out unemployment benefits to its insurers at 62 per cent of their wages for no more than 90 days or around 7,000-8,000 baht per month. Right now, there is still 160 billion baht in the SSO’s unemployment fund.

The SSO initially estimated that there will be about 700,000 jobless workers who are registered with the social security system who will receive this compensation money.

“The amount of insurers who have either quit or were let go from their jobs is about 1 million people. Of that, around 350,000 have been directly impacted by the outbreak while around 800,000 are being affected by the lockdown. There is around 11 million insurers and we will try to help people who have been affected as fast as possible,” said permanent labour secretary and SSO chairman Suthi Sukosol.

The Cabinet approved the SSO’s measures on Wednesday.

Other measures that were approved by the Cabinet include:

  • Allowing the Government Pension Fund to increase its investment on assets overseas from no more than 30 per cent of the investment units to no more than 40 per cent. The move is made so that GPF can invest in other markets that currently has more liquidity than the domestic market and to spread out risks.
  • Allowing for individuals and corporates to use their donation to the Thai Red Cross Society to reduce their personal income and corporate income taxes reduction of up to 2 times the donation amount. The channel to provide the donation can be done via the Revenue Department’s e-donation platform and people and businesses will have to donate between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2022.
  • Providing extra benefits for public healthcare personnel where doctors will get 1,500 baht more per month and 1,000 baht per month for other supporting personnel until September. They will also get a special interest rate for loans from state-owned banks. 
  • Allowing for the construction of a water reservoir in Khao Lak it order to help fight drought in Phang-nga, Phuket and Krabi and to promote tourism as well. The project is estimated to cover 1,250 rai and be worth 659 million baht.
  • Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana has been reshuffled to Phetchaburi instead while the former governor of Phetchaburi will be moved to Chaiyaphum. The former governor of Chaiyaphum, Narong Wunsiew, will now be the new governor of Phuket. The popular island destination is now the second biggest outbreak site of the coronavirus after Bangkok. Phakaphong said on Wednesday that “we have tried our best.”
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