Unprecedented turnout on first day of reopening

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

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

Department stores, community malls and smaller shopping centres have shut down for almost two months due to the pandemic. As more businesses were allowed to resume on Sunday, a mass rush of shoppers was already anticipated.

Extensive queues were seen outside several malls in Bangkok and other provinces even before opening hours. Shoppers were required to wear masks, register before entering the building and reminded to observe social distancing.

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. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

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.

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.

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 increase safety for both customers and businesses. Shoppers can see if stores are overcrowded and can choose to 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.

“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 already fully booked.

WRITER: Post Reporters | Bangkok Post