‘Factory sandbox’ to protect B700bn sector
The government has launched a pilot program to test, vaccinate and isolate factory workers to limit Covid-related disruptions to its export-driven manufacturing industry, one of the few bright spots in an economy crushed by the virus.
The “Factory Sandbox” initiative aims to protect 3 million jobs and support manufacturers who contribute about 700 billion baht to gross domestic product, according to a government statement this week.
The plan will focus on plants that employ at least 500 people, and will “build confidence for both Thai and foreign investors at a time when supply chains in rival countries are shutting down,” the statement said.
Exports in the second quarter surged 27.5% from a year earlier, with growth in manufacturing one of the few economic bright spots amid weak retail spending, “diminishing effectiveness” of interest-rate cuts and the void of tourism, according to a report by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
The project’s name is a play on words based on the “Phuket Sandbox,” a programme that has aimed to revive tourism in the most popular island.
Thailand has faced a relentless surge of Covid-19 since early April, with more than 500 clusters detected in factories. Driven by the delta variant, the outbreaks have triggered production halts and supply shortages beyond Thailand’s borders, with several factories in Vietnam forced into temporary closures.
The Sandbox programme will focus on large factories that manufacture cars, electronics, food and medical equipment for exports in provinces that are key production hubs.
To qualify, the plants must have at least 500 workers, a field hospital or isolation facility, and shuttle services for employees.
All workers will also be tested for the coronavirus, and those who test positive will be isolated while cohorts will be inoculated, with subsequent tests done every seven days.
Sixty factories in four provinces with a combined workforce of 138,000 will participate in the initial phase, according to the government statement. They are Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Sakhon and Chonburi, all of which are within an hour’s drive of Bangkok.
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