Chaos, privacy fears as Bangkok malls reopened

As Bangkok malls reopened in line with relaxed lockdown rules, Thais are being forced to download a tracking app to enter properties, sparking privacy concerns. 

Consumers rushed to return to shopping as usual from Sunday following two months of restricted movement, with most venues requiring the use of hand disinfectant and fask masks as a condition of entry as well as instituting temperature checks on all mall-goers. In some malls, consumers were photographed and registered before being allowed entry, and in other cases entry to individual stores was controlled by a QR code scanning system.

The Mall Group Executives and Staffs welcoming clients at the EmQuartier

Customers and retailers were asked to concede to restrictions on the number of shoppers allowed in retail spaces and an alcohol ban on in restaurants. Robots measuring customer temperatures were seen roving around some crowded food courts, as tables were divided by plastic and cardboard barriers to enforce social distancing.

Disposable plastic gloves were provided to customers while shopping at some malls, with UV machines being used for the sanitation of shopping bags.

“We are pleased to see Thailand’s success in handling this crisis which enables us to resume operations,” said The Mall Group CEO of The Emporium and Executive Committee Kriengsak Tantiphipop, “but, for us as for our clients, this comes with a strong sense of responsibility and a need to adapt to the new normal.”

Mall Group staff and customers queue to enter

The nationwide mall reopening saw lengthy queues outside popular venues in Bangkok and in the provinces even before opening hours, with overcrowding forcing some businesses to temporarily close, overwhelmed by the number of shoppers. The Ikea store in Bang Na closed its doors as a means to control high shopper traffic, while Future Park Rangsit monitored consumer numbers based on scans of a QR code upon entry.

Mall Group staff preparing to sterilise clothes at the UV- C Sterilizing Chamber

Major mall operator Central Pattana, operator and developer of Central World (pictured at the top of this page), CentralPlaza, CentralFestival, Central Phuket and Central Village, reopened all 33 of its shopping centres nationwide under tight density-control measures, limiting crowds to one person per five sqm.

Central Pattana, which is continuing to offer rental discount rates to tenant stores over the next three to six months, expected customer traffic in the early phase of the reopening to be just 25–40 per cent of normal.

Meanwhile, according to a report in the Bangkok Post, some customers faced difficulties registering their details on an app designed to boost safety by reporting on store congestion. An average of 4635 people were using the app per minute. The app, named “Thai Chana” (“Thailand Wins”) is designed to be used by the Thai government to trace social contacts in case of a new outbreak of the coronavirus. The government will send messages via the app if a coronavirus case is discovered in a specific venue.

One foreign consumer described the app to Inside Retail Asia as “shocking” reflecting widespread concern about the tracking feature of the app. However government authorities rushed to assure consumers the app would only be used to identify people who potentially came into contact with a Covid-19 infected person if a patient was identified as having been in a store.  

Bangkok malls reopened following a slowing down of Thailand’s outbreak, with only three new cases announced on Sunday, and total cases just cresting 3000. The impact of the virus and subsequent lockdown is expected to see the Thai economy contract by more than six per cent.

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