Thais adopt ‘new normal’ as malls reopen after shutdown eases

Shoppers queue up at the entrance of Central World shopping complex on Sunday as shutdown restrictions ease.

Thais woke up on Sunday to find malls open for the first time since March 22, as the government’s second phase of easing lockdown measures unveiled the “new normal” of everyday life.

Long queues were seen at the entrances of most malls on Sunday morning, with every shopper having to register before being permitted to enter.

Shoppers had the choice of either scanning a QR code produced via the “Thai Chana” (Thais Win) platform or putting their names and phone number down in a notebook. The registration process was part of the government’s contact-tracing efforts, in case there is a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Bangkok resident Lerla rushed to her favourite shopping mall on the first day of reopening. Her quest was simple ­­– to pick up her favourite perfume – but she found the “new normal” can be complicated and also disconcerting.

She said that as well as queuing up, she had to scan the QR code in every shop she visited. And she didn’t realise that she had to “check out” from the mall, otherwise she would be registered as still being there.

She was worried when asked to scan the QR code for the tracing app.

“Initially, I was a bit concerned about my privacy, but I was okay with only having to share my phone number,” she said.

People were also concerned of the virus spreading as they queued up with the rest of the crowd to be let in. Other shoppers, meanwhile, complained about difficulties with scanning the code, especially the elderly who may not have been familiar with the technology. Some even abandoned their shopping expeditions, while others chose the option of registering their contact details in the logbook. Many complained that what should have been a quick run to the shops turned into a long-winded affair.

The Thai Chana platform records details of shoppers as part of measures to promote social distancing and curb the spread of the virus. Shops or operators who want to reopen their business can register at www.ไทยชนะ.com and provide a QR code, which shoppers have to scan at the mall’s or shop’s entrance upon arrival and exit.

The application displays the name of the shop, location, number of customers inside at any given time and its capacity.

Authorities say the platform helps shop owners by enabling them to record visitor information digitally, while customers can check the shop’s status to see if they can enter in line with social-distancing rules. They can also rate the shop on its virus-prevention efforts.

Shoppers found to have visited a “high risk” venue will be notified and advised to test for the virus free of charge. Also, if an infection is found in any area, the platform can trace people who visited the area and notify them so they can get tested for the disease.

As for people’s privacy, officials say it is not compulsory for businesses to use the platform, but cooperation is appreciated because it will help protect against a second wave of contagion.

“We promise that your privacy will be secured and your personal data kept secret. All the collected data will be stored and sent to the Department of Disease Control, so it can control the spread of Covid-19 and inform suspected carriers,” Polawat Witoolkollachit, inspector of Digital Economy and Society Ministry, said.

Just hours after it began operating, around 40,000 businesses in Bangkok and other provinces had signed up to the Thai Chana application, which was named by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. As of 5pm on Sunday, more than 2.1 million had checked into shops nationwide.

Favourite pastime

Sunday’s large crowds suggested Thais had really missed their shopping during the lockdown. In fact, some malls had to close early due to overcrowding. Under the second phase of easing, malls are allowed to open from 10am to 8pm.

The IKEA furniture store in Bangna shut its doors at 3.30pm after being inundated with so many customers that management feared there was not enough space to ensure social distancing.

Restaurants inside malls had no problem with crowding, though, due to their spacing measures.

Though eateries in malls can open again, they have to limit the number of diners, and seats have to be kept apart. Many have also installed partitions on tables to ensure diners are kept at a hygienic distance from each other.

Teerayoot Chunsermpong, a former general manager at an auto firm, accepted that under the “new normal” for eating out, his family of four could not sit at the same table together.

“It’s good that the restaurant was quiet and not too crowded, but we couldn’t chat while eating because of the partition, otherwise we’d have to yell at each other,” said Teerayoot, who was shopping for computers so that his sons could keep up with their education online.

He admitted to finding the restrictions sometimes inconvenient, but said they were also necessary.

“The strict measures are understandable and acceptable. I feel quite secure,” he said.

By ThaiPBS World’s General Desk


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