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Healthcare

UPDATE 2-Thailand approves soft loans and subsidies to mitigate virus impact

* Government to support utility bills

* Has 638 billion baht ready for soft loans

* Central bank extends debt restructuring period (Adds comments from the Bank of Thailand in paragraphs 6, 7)

BANGKOK, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Thailand has approved more measures to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic after its biggest outbreak yet, including soft loans and lower utility bills, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday.

The new measures aim to boost liquidity for businesses, provide debt relief and support for unemployment, Prayuth said, adding that an additional sum of a monthly 3,500 baht ($116) per person for two months would be considered next week.

Electric and water expenses would be subsided until March, Prayuth told a briefing, and higher Internet speeds and data would also be supported to promote working from home.

Thailand’s coronavirus case numbers, which are among the world’s lowest in relation to its population, have more than doubled to 10,834 since a month ago, when a big outbreak was found among migrant workers in a province near Bangkok.

Cases have since been found in more than half of its provinces and some containment measures have been re-imposed and people urged to stay home.

The central bank said on Tuesday it had extended a debt restructuring period for small businesses and debtors until June, Deputy Governor Ronadol Numnonda told a separate briefing.

“We are assessing information from financial institutions to see if additional measures are necessary,” he said.

The government has 638 billion baht ($21.16 billion) ready for low-interest loans from state banks and the central bank for business owners and freelance workers, Finance Minster Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said.

Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow said new measures were still within the government’s budget and there was no need for more borrowing.

“If everybody cooperates, we will be able to manage the outbreak by March,” he said.

For most of 2020, Thailand kept daily cases low, in part due to strict entry requirements that have devastated tourism-related businesses. ($1 = 30.1500 baht) (Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Satawasin Staporncharnchai and Chayut Setboonarg; Editing by Martin Petty)

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