BANGKOK - People are resuming their exercise routines in parks, getting haircuts at salons and dining out for the first time in more than a month, as Thailand begins gradually lifting restrictions on Sunday (May 3). The country has reported single-digit new Covid-19 infections each day this past week.
Restaurants, hair salons, parks, markets, open-air sports venues such as tennis courts, golf courses, shooting and archery ranges, and pet grooming salons and nurseries are reopening nationwide as Thailand is easing its lockdown. Details vary in each province.
With the ban on alcohol sales in place since early April now lifted, many people rushed to local supermarkets on Sunday morning to purchase their supplies before 11 am, when the regular, government-imposed sales window opens. However,they can only drink at home, as consumption in restaurants remains prohibited.
For Mr Suang Kosolsuk, 93, walking at Lumphini Park in Bangkok for an hour every morning followed by a tea session with his friends has been his routine for more than 30 years. It was only disrupted recently with widespread closures of public venues to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Since early April, he has had to substitute walking in the park with walking in his neighbourhood instead. He can resume his walking at Lumphini Park now but not his socialising, as gatherings remain prohibited.
"It's an alternative to working out at the gym. Before the park reopened, I was already walking on the street," said Ms Sasipat Dechkaew, another jogger at the park. Before the lockdown, she mainly exercised at a gym which is still closed.
"I just had to come out. I have gained so much weight already," the 44-year-old added.
Life has somewhat resumed but it has not returned to what was considered normal before the virus outbreak. Social distancing rules are still in effect and are strictly adhered to. Restaurants need to seat their customers 1.5m apart from one another. Hot pots cannot be shared, while food from the buffet has to be served to patrons at their tables.
Sitting at separate tables in compliance with distancing rules, Mr Joe Wong and his wife enjoyed their first meal out at their usual Mexican eatery on Sunday. During the lockdown, the couple opted for delivery instead.
"Certain dishes, if you don't eat them straight out of the kitchen, they don't taste the same," he said.
At a Chinese restaurant owned by a Singaporean family in Bangkok's city centre, sitting at separate tables is not practical. So stickers have been placed on alternate seats to indicate unavailability.
"I'm glad (about the reopening) but we need to wait and see. We're not celebrating yet," said Ms Jacqueline Sim, referring to the government's unclear guidelines about the reopening and the possibility of another shutdown.
At salons and barbershops, waiting inside is not allowed. Each customer must make an appointment, while shops are required to be cleaned for 20 minutes after each one of the two-hour slots.
Waiting outside a barbershop, Mr Teerapol Suntalunai, 35, said: "I feel happy. I haven't had a haircut for two months. I didn't trust my family to cut it for me." Inside, barbers wore face shields and only three of the shop's six seats were occupied by customers.
Reopening will occur in four phases, spaced out at 14-day intervals, depending on the necessity of the businesses or venues involved. The government warned that it will cease easing restrictions if there is a second wave of infections.
Thailand has reported a total of 2,969 confirmed Covid-19 and 54 deaths as of Sunday, with only three new cases reported on this day.