Thais emerge to a “new world” after lockdown
After falling silent for more than a month under lockdown, Lek’s hairdressing salon in Bangkok is suddenly echoing to the sound of appointment calls after Thailand began relaxing restrictions on Sunday (May 3).
Lek said she is delighted that she can finally open her business again following the stress of more than a month with absolutely no income. In fact, she’s now getting more than twice her usual number of clients, she said.
“Haircuts are a necessity because our hair grows continuously. Some clients are afraid of contracting the deadly virus, but plenty are more concerned about their looks,” said Lek, who operates a small salon in Bangkok’s Pratunam area.
Though Lek was forced to close when the lockdown was announced on March 26, the rent for her shop was not suspended. Fortunately, her relatives helped out.
The government loosened restrictions on some businesses on May 3, kick-starting the return to normal daily life after the count of new Covid-19 cases dropped significantly.
Under the new relaxed rules, outdoor markets, food stalls and restaurants outside shopping malls can reopen, while people can once again purchase booze – provided it is consumed at home. Parks, outdoor sports facilities, barbers and pet salons are also allowed to open their doors again.
Lek said she is strictly applying Covid-19 prevention measures as per government instructions. These include serving one client at a time through advance booking, only cutting and blow-drying hair, sanitising her equipment frequently, and wearing face masks.
Along with a mask, she also straps on a face shield inside the shop. Hand-sanitising gel is provided for clients while equipment such as combs and hairbrushes are cleaned after every cut. The chairs and bed are also wiped down with disinfectant before each new customer sits down.
“This adds to my burden [of time and money required for cleaning and preparation], but it’s certainly better than having the lockdown extended,” she said.
Restaurant owners and customers around the country would agree.
In Bang Khen district, just north of Lek’s shop, Voravat said he was delighted to hear eateries were allowed to reopen, but dismayed that his family could not sit down together for a meal at their local noodle shop.
Though restaurants are allowed to serve sit-in customers, seats have to be kept apart to comply with social-distancing measures.
The noodle shop can only seat one diner per table, so it was not possible for all four of us to dine there, complained Voravat.
The noodle shop’s owner agreed: “It’s ridiculous that we cannot allow more than one person to sit at a table due to the social-distancing rules, even though they [the family of four] arrived in the same car.”
Coming to a stop
People’s busy lives came to a standstill when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared a nationwide state of emergency from March 26 to April 30 in a bid to control the contagion. On April 3 restrictions were tightened with a nightly curfew from 10pm to 4am, before the state of emergency was extended until May 31.
Since Thailand discovered its first Covid-19 case in January, total confirmed infections have grown to 2,988 with 54 deaths as of May 5. But this past week the new daily cases dropped to single-digits — with the exception of 18 immigrants found to be infected on Monday.
As the infection risk fell, the country entered the first phase of eased restrictions on Sunday. Authorities will now evaluate the situation for 14 days to see whether it’s safe to proceed to the next stage of reopening department stores and other businesses. Prayut, meanwhile, has issued a warning – all shops must follow the social-distancing rule strictly or they will face closure again.
Many people now feel their lives are slowly returning to normal, especially as they can finally leave their homes to get some fresh air and exercise. People flocked to public parks around the country when they reopened early on Sunday morning after being closed for more than a month.
Under the new regulations, walking, running and exercising is allowed, but team games remain prohibited.
Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, a radio host for FM 96.5’s “Morning World Review”, said she is relieved that at least she can get back to her exercise routine.
After the parks were shut, regular jogger Kannikar tried to maintain her routine of thrice-weekly runs. Initially she jogged at a parking lot near the Suan Rot Fai Park near Chatuchak market, before being stopped by officials who claimed the space was part of the park, so she switched to running on the footpaths of the Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road.
She returned to Suan Rot Fai Park on Monday morning for a jog, and was reassured by the measures being taken there by officials and park users.
Before entering, people must wear a face mask, have their temperature checked and clean their hands with the sanitising gel provided. She said that park users were also obeying the social-distancing rules by making an effort to run or jog more than 2 metres apart.
“There’s a huge difference between jogging in the park and on the street. Jogging in the street is not good for your health because there’s so much dust and fumes and hardly any shade. I even injured myself once because the footpaths are so uneven,” she said.
Kannikar is now back jogging in Suan Rot Fai, and praying that people follow the rules so public parks are not ordered to shut again to halt a second stage of contagion.
By ThaiPBS World’s General Desk