'New normal' in malls seen to continue for at least two more years — DTI

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 24) — Mall-goers may have to get used to the new shopping norm, as limited physical contact and other safety protocols in the establishments are not going away soon, the Department of Trade and Industry said Sunday.

"Malls are encouraged to continue these strict protocols. We cannot afford to be lax. Probably in the next year, in the next two years, ito pa rin dapat ‘yung practice natin (this should still be our practice)," DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said during a Department of Health virtual forum.

"Kung ano ‘yung protocols (Whatevever protocols) that they implement should be the same.....even in December, even in the next year, even probably the years after," Castelo added.

The forum tackled the "new normal" in malls amid the pandemic, including health protocols set to protect customers and workers once they resume operations under easier quarantine rules.

Under DTI Memorandum Circular 20-21, malls, shopping centers, and establishments under general community quarantine are required to strictly monitor foot traffic and enforce safe distancing among customers.

Under the guidelines, mall entrances and the number of people allowed inside establishments will be reduced to better manage foot traffic.

There will be an increase in police visibility, while elevators will only be accessible to senior citizens, pregnant women and persons with disability.

A centralized pick-up location for stores with delivery or pick-up services will also be designated.

To reduce crowds, free Wi-Fi will be turned off for customers and the conduct of sale events, marketing events, and other promotional activities requiring physical contact will remain suspended.

Meanwhile, mall operators said they will continue to monitor and communicate proper "safe malling" within their premises in compliance with the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. They also said they will invest in new technology to ensure safety among shoppers.

"We are in the process of acquiring disinfection chambers in our malls. We just have to continue dealing with the distancing. As long as there is no cure or vaccine, this will be the new normal in our operations," New City Commercial Corporation President Lafayette Lim said during the briefing.

"Regardless of category, there will be no close contact. For [sampling of] make-up products, for example, there will be digital sampling to simulate what the make-up will look like," SM Supermalls Vice President for Business Development Gino Borromeo said.

The DTI also announced that it is eyeing the possibility of allowing hair salons and barbershops to reopen, with adherence to basic infection control measures, social distancing, and temperature checks.

There have been talks regarding a proposal to downgrade Metro Manila's lockdown category by June 1.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday that Metro Manila will likely be placed under general community quarantine, shifting from a "high-risk" to a "low-risk" area for COVID-19 infection.

The region was placed under a "modified" enhanced community quarantine MECQ since May 16, with certain sectors such as construction and food manufacturing already allowed to resume operations after two months of work stoppage.

The Philippines has recorded 13,777 COVID-19 cases to date, with 3,177 recoveries and 863 deaths.