Bangkok's Pathumwan Intersection, usually a hotspot of heavy traffic, is nearly empty on March 26, 2020, as many Thais stay home and avoid commuting.

BANGKOK — Government officials say more than 19 million people have applied for cash relief from the government since the scheme was introduced online on Saturday evening.

The number far exceeds the previous estimate by the government that 3 million people will sign up for the program, which involves a 5,000 baht cash handout that will be made for the duration of three months.

In the face of a growing application, the government reiterated on Sunday that only informal workers and self-employed individuals affected by the virus who are not covered by the social security welfare scheme are eligible.

The first monthly payment could be made as early as a week from now, the government said.

Anusorn Tamajai, dean of the Faculty of Economics at Rangsit University, welcomed the relief program on Monday. He said it will help poor people in the informal sector from the impact caused by the business shutdown in Bangkok and beyond.

However, he said it is unfortunate that the aid wasn’t announced earlier in March together with the business closure, which led to an exodus of many workers in Bangkok to their home provinces and spread the coronavirus further.

“We may have failed on this. If the [Bangkok] lockdown announcement was made in tandem with the scheme, people wouldn’t have fled to other provinces to begin with,” Anusorn said.

Over fifty provinces out of 76 provinces as of Monday report having infection cases.

Anusorn also said there has been confusion as to who is eligible for the cash handout, with some in the formal sector still applying despite the fact that they already have social security coverage.