BANGKOK - Thailand's tourism-reliant economy was clearly affected by a recent COVID-19 outbreak as monthly private consumption and investment declined, making economic recovery more uneven, the central bank said on Thursday. But the impact of the second wave of infections that emerged in mid-December was less severe than the previous wave and activity should recover now restrictions have eased, Chayawadee Chai-Anant, a senior Bank of Thailand (BOT) director told a briefing. "The recovery will remain patchy and the government would need to introduce targeted measures to support it," she said, adding the economy might return to pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter of 2022. Southeast Asia's second-largest economy could grow at the upper 2% levels this year, less than the 3.2% previously projected, according to BOT Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput. The economy suffered its biggest slump in over two decades last year. In January, exports, a key growth driver, dipped 0.3% in from a year earlier. However, excluding weaker gold shipments, exports expanded 5.5%, the BOT said. "Exports should continue to recover as the economies of trading partners are growing steadily," Chayawadee said. The tourism sector slump continues due to 10 months of tight travel curbs that saw foreign arrivals fall 99.8% in January from a year earlier. Foreign receipts made up 11% of gross domestic product in 2019. The service sector will be slow to recover and would need continued support, Chayawadee said, adding more foreign visitors were expected in the second half. The BOT is working with relevant agencies on measures to help businesses with liquidity and debt problems, including an asset warehouse to help debtors that are still unable to repay loans, Chayawadee said. Separately, the government also plans to introduce relief measures to support tourism and struggling smaller firms, state planning agency head Danucha Pichayanan said, without giving details. REUTERS
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