Big turnout as malls reopen

Big turnout as malls reopen

Temporary closures as shops hit capacity

Shoppers at Central Lat Phrao observe social distancing measures by wearing face masks and keeping distance from strangers. (Photo by Arnun Chonmahatrakool)
Shoppers at Central Lat Phrao observe social distancing measures by wearing face masks and keeping distance from strangers. (Photo by Arnun Chonmahatrakool)

People rushed back to shopping malls across the country on the first day out of lockdown on Sunday as business operators adopted disease prevention and crowd control measures to mitigate the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced a shutdown of department stores, community malls and smaller shopping centres for almost two months. With more businesses and leisure activities allowed to resume on Sunday, a mass rush to these premises was expected.

Long queues were seen outside several malls in Bangkok and other provinces before opening hours. Shoppers were required to wear masks, asked to register before entering the premises and reminded to keep a safe distance from each other.

Overall, the reopening proceeded with few hiccups under disease control measures such as social distancing and temperature checking. However, large crowds had gathered at the IKEA store in Bang Na on Sunday, forcing the outlet to close temporarily.

At 2.35pm, IKEA announced on its Facebook page that it had to close temporarily due to high shopper traffic. The outlet apologised for the inconvenience but insisted it had to keep the number of shoppers under the maximum operating capacity under social distancing rules.

Photos of large shopper turnout at the furniture store drew cautious messages from netizens who urged each other to avoid going out unless necessary.

A shopping mall worker also expressed concerns about the mass rush back to public venues like shopping centres, saying social distancing was hard to maintain when too many people come together in the same place.

"We're now open for business. So it is best to visit on weekdays," a worker said.

A cardboard cutout of Bar-B-Q Plaza's mascot is placed in front of a diner at The Mall Bang Kapi as part of social distancing measures. Varuth Hirunyatheb

Some hiccups were reported as shoppers tried to register using a smartphone application called "Thai Chana" which went online on Sunday.

The application was developed to boost safety for both customers and businesses. Shoppers can see if stores are congested and decide if they should move to other less crowded ones.

Chonratha Mora, assistant director for marketing of Future Park Rangsit, said customers were asked to scan the shopping mall's QR code to allow the mall assess the operating capacity.

The mall can accommodate about 28,000 customers every two hours based on its space, she said. "If the number of customers in the store is about to exceed the limit, we'll ask those outside to wait," she said.

She said staff were deployed around the mall to remind customers to keep a safe distance from each other. She said clothes stores are required to distribute gloves to customers too.

Polawat Witoolkollachit, inspector-general of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, said that as of 11.30 on Sunday a total of 26,736 shops were registered to use the Thai Chana application and 4,635 people used it per minute.

He gave his assurance that customers' privacy would be protected and information from the app would be used for disease control only.

Mask-clad shoppers queue in front of Future Park Rangsit in Pathum Thani on the first day of business resumption on Sunday. Apichit Jinakul

Central Pattana (CPN) executive vice-president of marketing Nattakit Tangpoonsinthana gave assurances about CPN's crowd and disease control measures. The company has put in place hygiene and safety measures since the beginning of the outbreak.

"CPN has also created norms in response to the 'New Normal' policy, with its prototype measure 'Central's Hygiene and Safety'. We're glad to see that every sector has adopted and implemented this measure," Dr Nattakit said.

Dr Nattakit said the decline in Covid-19 infections had demonstrated Thailand is one of the world's leaders in public health when it comes to coping with Covid-19.

"The main thing that helps to support our battle with Covid-19 is the 'Power of all Thais' and their cooperation, thanks to the government, agencies, healthcare professionals and Thai people for ensuring their self-disciplined lifestyle."

However, in Nakhon Ratchasima, two branches of a department store are not allowed to reopen, pending a disease control and management plan.

According to provincial authorities, the department store is required to submit a plan to the provincial communicable disease control committee for consideration first.

Meanwhile, Transport Co, a state-run transport company, on Sunday reported that bus services to the provinces for the upcoming weekend are booked solid.

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