Thailand to prioritise Covid-19 jabs for workers, vaccinate 70% of population by September

Thailand is scheduled to start its main drive next month. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Thailand is adding workers to the front of the vaccination queue in an effort to buttress the economy as a raging Covid-19 outbreak threatens to delay plans to reopen borders for foreign tourists.

Millions of employees under the social security programme in Bangkok, the nation's capital and financial hub, and nine provinces with large economies will get their shots along with other priority groups, including senior citizens and individuals with underlying conditions, according to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

"This group is an important engine to the nation's economy," Prayut said late Wednesday.

Workers in other provinces will be able to get inoculated as more vaccines become available, he said.

The country is aiming to administer one shot of the vaccine to 70 per cent of its population by September, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Wednesday, as it seeks to provide protection for more people faster amid its deadliest outbreak so far.

Thailand has yet to start a mass immunisation programme and has been scrambling to secure vaccines from multiple brands after a new, more potent Covid-19 outbreak that has seen cases nearly quadruple and fatalities increase six-fold since early April.

"We will focus on the first shots of vaccination to meet the target of 70 per cent of the population by September," Charnvirakul said in a statement.

He reassured the public there would be no need to reserve a second shot as there would be doses available.

The government had previously aimed to vaccinate the 70 per cent needed to reach herd immunity by the end of the year but has been criticised for being slow to procure vaccines and for a strategy that had relied overwhelmingly on one manufacturer, AstraZeneca.

Thailand is scheduled to start its main drive next month, when locally manufactured AstraZeneca doses are available.

The nation of almost 70 million people has so far administered about 2.4 million shots in a vaccination campaign that has focused on health-care and front-line workers, and residents.

Thailand has also placed orders for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Authorities have so far approved the vaccines of Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

Thailand has slashed its growth outlook for this year, citing the delay in reopening borders to foreign tourists and slow pace of vaccination.

The economy may expand between 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent this year, less than the 2.5-3.5 per cent forecast in February, the National Economic and Social Development Council said Monday.

Prayut's administration expects the delivery of millions of doses of vaccines starting in June to help kickstart its mass roll-out programme.

Bangkok, the epicentre of the current outbreak, aims to inoculate 70 per cent of its residents by July, while Phuket, a resort island gearing up for a July tourism reopeni ng, also sets a similar target for the islanders.

"Thailand's plan to reopen Phuket to vaccinated tourists from July 1 and to expand that program to a number of other provinces, including Bangkok, in October appears ambitious to us," Barclays economists Brian Tan and Shreya Sodhani wrote in a report Wednesday.

"In our base case, we think Phuket will reopen for tourism in September, followed by a few more provinces in December. We expect Bangkok to be reopened last, and only late next year."

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