Thailand outlines $3.2 billion stimulus to alleviate coronavirus impact

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Friday outlined a stimulus package, estimated to be worth more than $3.2 billion, to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on activity in an already-flagging economy.

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is growing at its weakest pace in years due to soft exports and investment. The epidemic continues to hit tourism, which was a bright spot.

The package, approved by the economic cabinet, includes cash handouts, soft loans and other financial assistance, and tax benefits, Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana told reporters after a meeting of economic ministers.

“It’s a temporary, broad-based package to help various groups,” he said.

The value of the package was not given on Friday, but Uttama earlier said it would be worth more than 100 billion baht ($3.17 billion) and would seek approval from the whole cabinet on March 10.

Financial support for businesses includes soft loans at 2% interest rates, debt moratorium and delayed debt repayments, and lower utilities expenses and other costs, Uttama said.

The government will give 2,000 baht each to low-income earners, farmers and independent workers, he said.

It will offer higher tax benefits on some long-term fund investments to support the stock market.

Measures to help airlines will be considered later, said Kobsak Pootrakool, secretary to the economic cabinet.

He said first-quarter economic performance would not be good, with the epidemic currently slashing foreign tourist numbers by about 50%.

Thailand’s economy grew 2.4% last year, the weakest in five years. Growth this year is likely to be much lower, with Kasikornbank’s research center predicting it at just 0.5%, the lowest since 2009.

Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Toby Chopra

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