KUALA LUMPUR - Diners are making a cautious return to Malaysia's restaurants following the lifting of dine-in restrictions last month.
With the number of new Covid-19 cases hovering around 20,000 daily, diners The Straits Times spoke to took precautions such as selecting eateries that were not crowded or had al fresco dining areas.
One such diner was housewife Shirley Loh, 53, who took her teenage kids out for a meal.
"I was concerned since my kids aren't eligible for vaccination yet but they have been stuck at home for so long. I made sure the restaurant was not crowded and we sat at a table outside. The staff checked my vaccination status," she told ST.
"All the outlets were quiet, and there was hardly anyone," she added.
Fully vaccinated individuals in states that are under phase one of the National Recovery Plan have been allowed to dine-in at eateries, go camping, as well as visit night markets since Aug 20, as long as 50 per cent of the adult population are fully vaccinated.
To dine-in at restaurants, diners must have passed 14 days from the day they received their second shot for double-dose vaccines such as Pfizer BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sinovac, while recipients of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson and CanSino must have passed 28 days post-jab.
Phase one refers to the strictest level of lockdown with most social activities curtailed. Only Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Putrajaya and Kedah are currently in phase one.
Of the 19,378 new Covid-19 cases on Friday (Sept 3), 740 were found in Kuala Lumpur, 3,613 in Selangor , 41 in Putrajaya and 1,470 in Kedah.
Fully vaccinated parents can also take their children who are below 17 to dine-in at eateries. Currently, only adults above 18 are eligible to take the Covid-19 vaccination in Malaysia.
Madam Mandy Sani, 42, met some friends for breakfast last week, and she picked a place that was empty.
"The restaurant checked our vaccination certs and made sure we were 14 days after our second doses," said Madam Mandy, who is self-employed.
"There were three of us but they didn't allow us to sit together as they only allow two people to sit at one table. There was also a sign saying all of their employees were fully vaccinated," she added.
Sunway Malls and Theme Parks, which operates seven retail malls across Malaysia, has seen a gradual increase in the number of diners with the easing of dine-in restrictions for the fully vaccinated, chief executive H. C. Chan told ST.
Company data showed that food and beverage sales improved 15 per cent last month with the resumption of dining in on Aug 20, and currently ranges from 30 per cent to 35 per cent.
"Diners have adopted a cautious wait-and-see approach... With sentiment improving from our early September indicators, we expect another upside of 15 per cent to 20 per cent by end September, hopefully achieving 50 per cent to 60 per cent sales normality or possibly higher for the Klang Valley, since 94 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated (as at Sept 1)," said Mr Chan.
In a survey last month, the Malaysian Shopping Malls Association found that more shopping malls nationwide are facing permanent closure by the end of this year amid the drought in business caused by the prolonged lockdown, with 66 per cent of malls expecting 10 per cent to 30 per cent of their tenants to vacate.
Mr Chan said he hoped that cinemas would also be allowed to reopen for fully vaccinated individuals in the near future.
"The brief respite at the cinemas is important for the well-being and mental health after undergoing such a prolonged lockdown," he added.