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BANGKOK - Thailand's cabinet on Tuesday approved financial measures worth 350 billion baht ($11.31 billion) to help businesses cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as the economy will take time to recover, government officials said.
The tourism-reliant economy contracted 6.1% last year, its deepest slump in over two decades, with tourism devastated by travel curbs and other domestic impacts.
The measures approved included 250 billion baht ($8 billion) of soft loans and another 100 billion baht for a so-called "asset warehousing" scheme to support debtors who are unable to repay loans.
The help for debtors includes transfer of collateral assets for debt settlement and giving debtors the right to rent their assets or buy them back later.
Coronavirus outbreaks at home and abroad had "a widespread and longer than expected impact", making it difficult for businesses to access liquidity and capital, Finance minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith told a briefing.
At separate briefing, central bank governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said the economy was expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels in the third quarter of 2022, but tourism could take much longer.
"But the return of GDP (gross domestic product) does not mean everything will be back to normal. Employment and people's income won't get back yet," he said, adding it could be four to five years before Thailand sees 40 million tourists a year, the 2019 volume.
Current support measures are insufficient and more is needed, Sethaput said. He earlier suggested economic growth this year could be at the "upper 2% levels".
The cabinet also agreed on Tuesday to offer a co-payment scheme worth 5 billion baht and to extend a current subsidy to boost domestic travel in the absence of foreign visitors.
The tourism sector slump has continued since last April's tight travel curbs that saw foreign arrivals fall 99.8% in January from a year earlier.
($1 = 30.94 baht) REUTERS