People have dinner as they sit next to stuffed panda dolls, used as part of social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Maison Saigon restaurant that reopened after the easing of restrictions in Bangkok, Thailand, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

BANGKOK – Can’t bear to eat alone? 

One restaurant in Thailand is ensuring it meets new social distancing guidelines, and providing lonely diners with a bit of company, by seating stuffed panda dolls at its tables.

Thailand earlier this month relaxed some restrictions on businesses as the number of coronavirus cases slowed, allowing restaurants to reopen but with strict rules in place to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

“Earlier, we had only one chair for the tables where the customer came alone. But for me, it felt strange, so I thought I’d give them some company,” said Natthwut Rodchanapanthkul, the owner of Maison Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok.

Sitting opposite one of the panda dolls, diner Sawit Chaiphuek said he was happy to have some company as he stepped out to eat for the first time in months. 

“The panda makes me feel less lonely eating by myself,” said Sawit, 25. 

Siriporn Assavakarint, another customer, said the new seating rules often bamboozled diners, and the army of plush pandas made things much clearer. 

“It’s a lot easier to understand compared to other restaurants where people always get confused about where to sit and end up sitting too close to each other.”

Thailand reported one new coronavirus case on Thursday and no new deaths, bringing the total to 3,018 cases and 56 deaths since the outbreak started in January. 

On Wednesday, it reported zero new cases for the first time since early March, before the lockdown began.

—Reuters

By Jiraporn Kuhakan