BANGKOK ⸺ Thailand’s unemployment rate hit a 12-year high in the first quarter of 2021 due to the renewed impact of coronavirus outbreaks, as the country reimposed measures to contain a third wave of infections, the state planning agency said on Monday.
The Southeast Asian country’s latest, more severe outbreak has accounted for about 80% of its total COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The unemployment rate was 1.96% in the January-March quarter, representing 758,000 workers without jobs, up from 1.86% in the previous quarter, state agency data showed.
That was the highest since the 2.08% recorded in the first quarter of 2009 during the global financial crisis.
“The unemployment rate increased drastically and is expected to rise again, reflecting the ongoing impact of COVID-19,” Danucha Pichayanan, head of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDB), told a briefing.
Unemployment slowed in the second half of 2020, when earlier outbreaks were contained, before re-emerging this year.
The official definition of being unemployed in Thailand is quite narrow, including only those who do not work a single hour in a surveyed week and excluding those with a business or owning farms.
Analysts also note it does not catch Thailand’s significant unofficial economy.
The prolonged COVID-19 outbreak may prevent the economy from growing as targeted due to slower activity, Danucha said.
Last week, the NESDB cut its 2021 economic growth outlook to 1.5%-2.5% from 2.5%-3.5%, predicting half a million foreign tourists after the new outbreak. Thailand had nearly 40 million visitors in 2019.
Tourism is expected to return to normal in 2026, the agency said, citing the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Earlier, the central bank also said it could take at least four to five years for arrival numbers to normalise.
The outbreak will delay reinstatement, affecting more than 7 million tourism workers, Danucha said.
However, the number of employed workers reached 37.6 million in the March quarter, up 0.4% from a year ago due to higher employment in the agriculture, which has absorbed some of the workers laid off from other sectors.
Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Satawasin Staporncharnchai; Editing by Ed Davies, Martin Petty; Reuters