BANGKOK • Thailand has reported zero locally transmitted Covid-19 cases for 100 days in a row, joining a small group of places such as Taiwan where the pathogen has been virtually eliminated.
The South-east Asian country has not recorded any community transmission since May 26, data from the health ministry yesterday showed.
The authorities are still finding infections among travellers arriving at the tourist hot spot's borders, but these people are quarantined and allowed into the community only after they have recovered.
Like in the case of Taiwan and New Zealand, another location that made it past 100 days before local infections re-emerged, Thailand's success has relied on strictly policed borders that have been closed to foreigners for months.
The strategy has come at great cost to Thailand, with its iconic beaches and cultural sites making it one of the most tourism-reliant economies in the world.
That makes the milestone a bittersweet one for the country, coming amid growing pressure from business to reopen borders to save the ailing tourism sector, which accounted for 20 per cent of Thailand's pre-pandemic economy.
The government has in principle agreed to open to tourists again ahead of the northern hemisphere winter, but has yet to release many details about how it will do so safely.
"We contained the virus, and now is really the time to focus on the economy - the longer we close the borders, the more damage it will have," said Mr Somprawin Manprasert, chief economist at Bank of Ayudhya in Bangkok. "Without proper policies, the exit of some businesses and workforces could cut the country's long-term growth by 0.5 per cent each year."
Yesterday, the government announced 68.5 billion baht (S$2.98 billion) worth of fiscal stimulus in cash handouts and job measures to support the economy. This includes spending 45 billion baht on 3,000 baht handouts for 15 million people to boost domestic consumption.
Thailand's dilemma illustrates the difficult balance governments across the world are trying to strike between public health and economic survival.
While many countries quickly shut down to curb the virus' spread earlier this year, the economic fallout soon became too much to bear, and places from the United States to India pushed to reopen despite the virus continuing to run rampant, fuelling new spikes in infection.
Thailand's 100-day feat is all the more impressive given that it was the first country outside China to detect the coronavirus, on Jan 13.
The kingdom has so far reported 3,425 cases and 58 fatalities, with only 93 patients still being treated in hospitals.