BANGKOK: Jenjira Mitakhot did not expect to hang out with her friend across a divider when they revisited Central World for the first time in nearly four months.
But that is how they spent time together at the shopping centre’s food court after it reopened on May 17.
Seated one metre apart, each on the opposite side of the table, Jenjira and her friend craned their necks around the divider as they tried to speak to one another in what has become the new normal since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Thailand in January.
“Shopping centres are like places for social gatherings, where I meet up with my friends. We finally got to meet again after I stopped going to shopping centres in early February. The disease prevention measures here are good and acceptable. But we also want to socialise. So, it’s quite hard to share a meal and chat like this,” she told CNA.
Still, the 24-year-old followed the rules. She wore a face mask at all times inside the shopping centre and kept rubbing her hands with sanitiser and wet wipes.
Every time she entered a store at Central World, she would have to register her contact details through an online platform called Thai Chana or Thailand Wins. Temperature screening was also required. The process was repeated when she exited the store.
The platform was created by the Thai government to track people’s movements and their visits to certain businesses and locations after more easing of the COVID-19 lockdown measures was implemented last weekend.
Various businesses were allowed to reopen from May 17 as the situation of the pandemic continues to improve in Thailand with low new case numbers. They include shopping centres, food courts, indoor sport centres and gyms.
However, the relaxation comes with regulations to prevent the disease from spreading further through social gatherings.
At Central World, for instance, customers are required to have their body temperature checked and step on a doormat with disinfectant before entry. They are also required to wear face masks at all times, use hand sanitiser provided around the premises, and practise social distancing by keeping one metre apart from each other.
“At the food court, we have indicated separate entry and exit points. Our staff members are also stationed there to scan customers’ body temperature and advise them about checking in and out of the premises. We also provide queue numbers to customers in order to limit their number to 250 people at any time,” said Parisa Sensri, an employee at Central World’s food court.
“When we reopened on May 17, some customers were confused and others complained about all the requirements. So we had to explain these are disease control measures and they have been put in place for safety and hygiene,” she added.
Similar measures are applied at clothing stores, where fitting rooms are disinfected before and after every use. Customers have to wear socks before entering the area and place the clothes they have tried on in the box provided for sanitisation.
As more businesses reopen in Thailand, consumers will have to familiarise themselves with the new normal brought by the global pandemic.
Since the country reported its first COVID-case in January, face masks and hand sanitiser have quickly become necessities. At the same time, digital technologies such as e-commerce payment systems have become a preferred choice among business operators.
Popular restaurant chain Bar B Q Plaza now encourages customers to pay for their meals via mobile to reduce physical contact. Although cash is still accepted, customers are now required to place money in a container provided.
Its employees at all the 149 branches nationwide have to wear gloves and face masks underneath face shields throughout their service.
They also have their body temperature checked twice a day – once before they start working and the other time at 4pm. The temperature readings are then displayed on their name tags for customers to see.
“We have introduced 20 steps to ensure everyone’s safety as soon as they walk into the restaurant,” said Boonyanuch Boonbumrungsub, chief executive of Bar B Q Plaza Business with 149 branches in Thailand.
The restaurant chain also limits the number of customers to one person per every 5 sq m and keeps them a metre apart. It also carries out deep cleaning between 3pm and 4pm daily.
“We are willing to lose an hour of sales to clean all our branches nationwide in order to ensure hygiene for our customers,” Boonyanuch said.
The restaurant has also placed paper replicas of its dragon mascot Bar B Gon at every table to keep its customers company during the health crisis, where social distancing is recommended.
The new normal may be confusing and frustrating for some. But as Thailand continues to report low numbers of new COVID-19 cases, many residents are willing to follow the new social regulations even though they are changing the way people live.
“I think it will stay like this for at least six more months,” Jenjira said before resuming a conversation with her friend across the divider.