Thai Premier to Impose State of Emergency to Tackle Virus

Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Siraphob Thanthong-Knight

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said a state of emergency will be declared for a month from March 26 as the government steps up efforts to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The premier made the announcement Tuesday after a Cabinet meeting in Bangkok. The decree will give him broad powers to impose further curbs on every-day life, under a strategy of using social distancing to tackle a jump in infections and deaths in March.

“The goal is to reduce the spread of the virus,” Prayuth said. “The government prioritizes the health of its citizens. Please do not panic and listen to the government.”

Confirmed cases have surged to more than 800 from the low 40s at the start of the month, and on Tuesday officials reported three more fatalities, taking the death toll to four. Much of the country, including the capital Bangkok, has been partially shut down already and people are being advised to stay at home.

Prayuth said specific steps will be announced on Thursday. Under the law, he could ban gatherings, order evacuations and take vehicles off the streets. The administration said it hasn’t discussed enforcing a curfew yet.

Stimulus

The government also announced a package of initiatives worth about 117 billion baht ($3.6 billion) to help mitigate some of the impact of the coronavirus crisis. The steps include a cash handout of 15,000 baht over three months for three million people, as well as a program of low-cost loans.

Thailand’s benchmark SET index of equities rose after the emergency decree and stimulus steps were outlined, before paring some of the gains. The gauge was up 1.4% as of 4:06 p.m. in Bangkok, following a 9.1% plunge a day earlier.

“Most investors will probably wait to see whether the emergency will be successful in curbing a surge in infections,” said Jitra Amornthum, an analyst at Finansia Syrus Securities Pcl in Bangkok. “But a rally in Thai stocks depends more on when the global outbreak comes under control.”

The Bank of Thailand unveiled an emergency, quarter-point interest-rate cut on Friday to 0.75%. Some analysts expect a similar reduction at its scheduled meeting Wednesday, to 0.50%.

Earlier in March, the government approved a package of measures that it said will deliver an economic boost of about 400 billion baht.

The collapse in tourism in the wake of the disease known as Covid-19 has badly damaged Thailand’s economy and stock market. Forecasters including Standard Chartered Plc and Bank of Ayudhya Pcl predict a full-year contraction in gross domestic product.

(Updates with more details on the emergency from the fifth paragraph.)

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