Virus takes toll on Thailand’s poorest as economy suffers

Motorcycle taxi drivers have seen their takings more than halved due to a lack of customers. (AP pic)

BANGKOK: Shuffling around their tiny slum home which is too small to stand up in, Thanapat Noidee and his wife Papassorn share donated noodles with their sons and worry about bills, as the coronavirus pushes Thailand’s poor deeper into penury.

The wood and breeze-block hut which is their home stands in the heart of a Bangkok commercial district festooned with five-star hotels and upmarket restaurants.

They share the small space in the shadow of the nearby high-rise developments with their children Woraphat and Kittipat, aged six and seven respectively.

Under the 1.2m-high ceiling, the adults have to kneel to move around the single room which is the bedroom, living room and dining area.

Downstairs, a tap provides a shower and a flat concrete surface serves as a kitchen area, a space shared with rats which clamber over their washed dishes.

Papassorn lost her job as a messenger as Thailand locked down to control the coronavirus in late March.

“I have to borrow money for the electricity from my father and grandfather,” she says.

“The school term opens again soon (July 1) and I have to find money for those expenses as well.”

Thailand’s parliament is due Sunday to vote on whether to approve a near US$60 billion stimulus to revive an economy battered by the pandemic.

If agreed, it will be the biggest state cash injection in Thai history.

Thailand has long paraded low unemployment as a symbol of its economic success. But millions like the Noidee family rely on informal work or day wages for survival, jobs imperilled by a feared 6%-7% contraction in the economy.

Two months after the lockdown and with the outbreak under control, Bangkok is gradually creeping back to life.

But Papassorn’s work has not returned while her husband has seen the roughly 1,000 baht (US$31) he earns each day as a motorcycle taxi driver more than halved because of a fall in customers.

The family have depended on the nearby Holy Redeemer Church for daily food handouts – a charity service which is being closed down as the city reopens.

“Without food donations, I’ll have to fight harder for my family to survive,” said Thanapat as he moved on his knees inside his lodgings, occasionally knocking his head on the ceiling.