Top: A patrol robot at Siam Paragon shopping mall on May 17, 2020.
BANGKOK — Visiting malls – arguably the most favorite hobby for Bangkokians – is no longer casual like it used to be, prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
Entry to Thailand’s shopping malls now involves surrendering your personal information – which may include your address, mobile phone number, and how long you spent inside a mall – and even patrol robots that urge you to keep the mask on your face.
Malls were allowed to reopen on Sunday after a month of shutdown under government orders. All of them now require the government’s tracking app called Thai Chana, or Thai Victory, so they could trace your whereabouts if a new infection is linked to the business venues.
But if that’s too ‘normal’ for your sense of new normal, how about mall cop robots warning people to keep their masks on and distance from each other?
Siam Paragon introduced two of them over the weekend. The more hi-tech one on the first floor not only measures the body temperatures of nearby humans, but could also detect anyone not wearing a facial mask and then literally warn the person.
“Please put on your face mask,” the unarmed robot warned one female shopper who didn’t have the mask on.
As a person in charge of the operation, Worakrit Ouitrakul was observing the unnamed patrol robot on Sunday afternoon. The gliding robot, said Worakrit, only speaks Thai for the meantime, but it will soon be able to speak English or even Chinese.
Worakrit said Siam Paragon Shopping Mall is trying the robots for two months. It costs 600,000 baht to rent one. The robot stops automatically when a human or object is too close to it and can see people not wearing sanitary masksas far as 20 meters away.
Despite its artificial intelligence, Worakrit complains that the Chinese-made 200 kilogram robot is still not intelligent enough.
“It can’t tell the difference between a real human not wearing a mask from that of a large ad of a human not wearing a mask,” Worakrit said.
Tracking Your Movement
But before you step foot on your favorite malls for the first time in nearly two months, you must first submit your information to a government website called Thai Chana.
Scan the QR Code. Type in your smartphone number, then ‘check in’ on the site as you enter the mall of your choice. After you’re done shopping, scan another QR code. The app will ask you how long you have been inside the shopping mall.
It will also ask you to assess the safety measures inside the mall, such as whether you’ve seen staff not wearing face masks or whether social distancing is maintained at dining tables.
Those who do not carry a smartphone will be asked to fill up a form detailing your name, phone number, and address.
According to Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman of the government response team for COVID-19, 46,000 shops and malls already adopted the tracing website as of Monday. Over two million people have used it.
But the system is far from foolproof. Taweesin said although 2.6 million check-ins were registered on Sunday, only 1.8 million checkouts were made; many shoppers simply ignored the protocols.
Apart from concerns of privacy intrusions, a social media account found that shoppers could fill in bogus information undetected. At least for the meantime.
Keep Clear and Carry On
Dining at the mall is also a strange experience, to say the least. At MBK Center’s 6th floor food court, square tables are arranged 1 meter apart, with only one chair per table. Everyone has to sit separately, even if they are from the same household.
Forks and spoons are now distributed by staff at a few spots so no one can tamper with the cutlery, thus lowering the risk of coronavirus infections. A staff member at one of the restaurants said he was paid half his monthly salary while the mall was shut for nearly two months.
At the male washrooms, urinals are alternately covered with white plastic lids to prevent users from urinating too close to one another. Escalators also have stickers encouraging shoppers to keep a distance.
CentralWorld went as far as capping the number of visitors during any given time at 96,200. A sign in front of the mall informed shoppers that the number is based on one person per 5 square meters inside the venue.
As of Sunday afternoon, only 6 percent of the allowed capacity was present at the mall.
Additional writing Teeranai Charuvastra
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Thai Chana as an application. It is in fact a website.