New Month, New Rules?

September 1 was the D-day for many to be let out of their homes for the first time in a long while (guilty!). It seems, at the time of going to print, another D-day unworthy of celebration will be October 1.

You see, the Department of Health, Ministry of Public Health, announced this week that they plan to implement "Covid Free Setting" measures to ensure safe reopening of businesses and activities in dark red zone provinces, beginning October 1.

These new rules are to be applied to businesses deemed to be at risk especially those inside department stores, shopping centres and community malls. These include restaurants, salons, beauty clinics and more. This three-fold plan consists of Covid-Free Environment, Covid Free Personnel and Covid Free Customer. Let's lay them out first before I put in my two satangs.

The first prong Covid-Free Environment is intended for business operators. They are required to clean touchpoints every one to two hours, regularly clean their products, clean their air conditioning systems every three months, use Hepa (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filters in their air-conditioning system in congested areas (such as supermarkets and restaurants) and prohibit crowd gatherings.

Secondly, Covid Free Personnel requires staff to be fully-vaccinated, with the exception of those who contract Covid-19 in the past one to three months. The staff must also undergo a rapid antigen test every seven days and do a self-assessment of Covid-19 risk via the Thai Save Thai app daily. They also must not socialise or eat lunch together during breaks. BTW, how many Covid-19-related apps with peppy titles do we need?

Thirdly, Covid Free Customer entails self-assessment of Covid-19 risk via the Thai Save Thai app or other apps before receiving services. Customers must also provide proof of being fully vaccinated aka two doses, or a negative result for a rapid antigen test (ATK) within the past seven days or a Covid-19 patient history within the past one to three months. Lastly, they should follow measures implemented by local health agencies. What fun!

Understandably so many dread and doubt these upcoming measures for various reasons. While I don't see problems with the plan's first prong (besides the added cost of operations for business operators), the second and the third are worrisome and cumbersome.

How can restaurants and other at-risk businesses ensure that their staff are fully-vaccinated when many still haven't received their fist jab yet? It's not like we have a vaccine drive especially targeting these workers months ahead of the inaugural date of these new measures. Although the Thai Restaurant Association recently announced vaccine registration exclusively for Thais and foreigners who work in the restaurant industry (bit.ly/3jJ1W01), it's meant for those who haven't received their first jabs and live in Bangkok. The aim to have the at-risk staff fully-vaccinated sounds far-fetched even if the employers are willing to pay for it.

Also, the second part stipulates that ATKs must be provided for staff, resulting in higher operating costs for business owners at a time when their incomes have already been severely slashed. I wouldn't have a problem with this stipulation if the government provides antigen test kits for workers but, to the best of my knowledge, they haven't mentioned it. It feels like shifting screening responsibility to the employers, who are already struggling.

The third aspect of the plan is perhaps the most perplexing. This means that, in theory, for a family to eat out together, they must all be fully-vaccinated. Again, many of us haven't had our first doses and the vaccination status of each member in one family may vary. I'm one of the guinea pigs who received Sinovac as a first dose and AstraZeneca as a second dose (or should I say my first dose?). My parents are due for their second AstraZeneca in late October. My (poor) older brother received two doses of Sinovac. My oldest brother is due for his second AstraZeneca in late October. I guess we can go out for an MK meal together in November. And we're part of the fortunate ones who have received vaccines while many families still haven't.

Most importantly, requiring proof of full vaccination means the number of potential customers will drastically drop. First, it makes people who haven't been jabbed yet practically ineligible to leave their homes (except for trips to the 7-Eleven). Second, it excludes people who receive their first dose from eating out and receiving services as they are waiting for their second jab. If enforced, the fully-vaccinated will also need to flash their vaccination record on the Mor Prom app before entering a restaurant or carry around the flimsy vax certificate.

Heck, some may look at the requirements and simply decide that they can't be bothered and SAH instead.

Due to the overwhelmingly negative response from the public, I won't be too surprised at all if the authorities have already changed their minds on these measures by the time you're reading this.

Can't they just think things through before they announce anything?


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