Thais adjust daily life to new normal that prioritizes public health
By Chananthorn Kamjan
BANGKOK, Kyodo - With an array of social restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Thai people are trying to adjust to a new normal that prioritizes public health during the pandemic and likely beyond.
Thailand extended a weeks-long state of emergency in late April to fight the pandemic even as cases of infection have been declining. To calm a public worried about a prolonged impact on their economic and social life, the government recently approved the easing of some restrictions and a reopening of some businesses.
Hair salons and restaurants are among the businesses that have been allowed to reopen under certain conditions. Restaurants outside shopping malls, including Bangkok's famous street-food vendors, can provide takeaway or home delivery services.
Those restaurants can also provide eat-in services as long as they keep several seats empty between customers.
For the public, wearing a face mask and keeping distance from each other while in public are now mandatory. People wearing face masks or face shields have become a common sight across the country.
"We have to adjust ourselves as the new normal will be our ways of life," said Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesman for the government's Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration. "You can design your own new normal practice and live happily in society."
A good number of Thai people seem ready to accept the new normal.
Aor, a 53-year-old worker in Bangkok who requested her nickname be used for this story, says she has already adjusted herself to life under the new normal, especially the need to wear a face mask whenever she goes outside.
A face mask has become a regular item to carry with all the time. She also prefers to follow social distancing in public areas to avoid close contact with others.
"I am happy with a new normal if it can save lives and protect us from the pandemic. I think Thai people are more aware of health safety."
Her employer also allows staff to work from home to avoid them meeting in groups in the office, according to Aor.
Despite the eased restrictions, the government's nighttime curfew keeps Thais at home from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. unless they are essential workers or need to be out during the hours for work.
Primary and secondary schools as well as universities have been shut due to the pandemic and some of them have provided online classes where they could.
Panicha Vorasri, a 20-year-old student at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said she took online classes during the second half of the semester that ended in April, but acknowledged that not all subjects lend themselves to online instruction.
"Studying at home is good during the pandemic, but I prefer to attend classes physically as it makes me concentrate more and I can talk to lecturers in person," she said.
However, Panicha believes online classes will be a feature of her new normal postpandemic, in addition to other features both inside and outside the campus. "We can use the online method as an option, such as to make up for missed class time."
Beauty salons have reopened or are set to do so while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Petcharat Asawadejmethakul, owner of K2002 Beauty Salon in Bangkok, said her shop made preparations and has been following new guidelines since it reopened on May 3.
The salon has made as much space between customers as it can. It also cleans equipment with antiseptic liquid before a customer is seated, while providing hand sanitizer around the shop.
All customers must wear a face mask to enter the premises, while hair stylists and hairdressers also need to wear a face mask or a face shield. Appointments must be made in advance.
No effort was spared to reopen safely, according to Petcharat.
She said her shop was badly impacted by the pandemic as it had to be closed for over a month. She continued to pay her staff even though there had been no income since late March.
She is relieved to see the restrictions eased, but knows the pandemic has changed the way the business makes money, given salons are banned from providing certain services such as hair coloring to cut down on in-salon time.
"We have to admit that the business is not the same as we are not allowed to do hair coloring or anything related to chemicals, which actually has been the main revenue for salon business," Petcharat said.
Even though the public has had to adapt to the new normal by accepting an array of restrictions, Digital Economy and Society Minister Puttipong Punnakanta says Thai society can turn the crisis into an opportunity.
The minister, in an interview, said that since restrictions were imposed to curb the virus's spread, Thais have been using more digital technology than before and can benefit from doing more of it.
"Thais are good at adjusting to a new environment and ready to use digital technology to enhance their daily life. We can see people working or studying from home, while many people order items online," he said. "We can turn crisis into opportunity."
(Raveebhorn Chaiprapa and Tanyalux Watanapalin contributed to this story.) (Kyodo)