SO far, so good. The lifting of the pandemic restrictions on September 16 was received with a sigh of relief, not just by business owners, but the public as well.

Foot traffic increased by 30 percent last weekend in Ayala Trinoma, one of the largest retail malls in Quezon City, signaling the public’s earnestness in exploring the world outside their homes after the third hard lockdown in Metro Manila, which began on August 6.

Trinoma general manager Jennie Chua told the BusinessMirror, “Personal care services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops have reopened since they are already allowed to operate at a limited capacity. More restaurants have reopened since dine-in is already allowed.”

Judging from last weekend’s numbers, she said it was still too soon to tell whether the mall will have a Merry Christmas, with an increase in revenues. But “we are hopeful that same as previous years, the fourth quarter shall post a significant increase in foot traffic.”

Chua added, “75 percent of the merchant’s employees and 100 percent of our mall frontliners have already been fully vaccinated. We continue to partner with the Quezon City LGU (local government unit) in their vaccination program to protect our merchants and customers alike.”

In Makati, diners are cautious

For veteran restaurateur Malu Gamboa, general manager of the Milky Way, Tsukiji, Cirkulo, and Azuthai, last weekend was still slow, perhaps because it was rainy. “Or maybe people are still cautious to go out. We still had more take-out requests last weekend than indoor diners. So for lunch last Saturday, we had six people, and for dinner, we had 20 people.”

According to the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), for areas under Alert Level 4, restaurants can only use 10 percent of their indoor dining capacity to service vaccinated customers, and 30 percent of outdoor dining spaces, regardless of vaccination status. “We’re very grateful [for the 10-percent requirement], as long we’re open. It’s a good start,” said Gamboa.

For now, only the Milky Way Café is open, but diners can order from the group’s other restaurants housed in the same building along Pasay Road. She said this helps them save on expenses like air-conditioning, especially since restaurant dining in the metro has yet to normalize to pre-pandemic levels.

“Milky Way has a big space and can accommodate 150 persons, including the banquet rooms. At 10 percent capacity, we can service up to 20 people at a time,” she said. There is a small outdoor space as well, for al fresco dining. Of the group’s total 130 employees, 60 are working — 30 on full time and 30 on rotation, she said. “We’re all vaccinated,” she assured.

Demand for haircuts, color overwhelming

Hairstylist Cherry Reyes, managing director of Toni & Guy chain of salons, said they could hardly keep up with the demand of clients who wanted to book appointments last weekend. “It was difficult to service all because in SM Aura, for instance, we only have 10 seats, so 10-percent of that is just one seat,” she said.   When a client suddenly decides to have her hair colored along with hair cut, there will be some “overlap” in appointments as a new one comes in.

For Alert Level 4, hair salons and similar establishments can only allot 10 percent of their seating capacity to vaccinated individuals. Pre-pandemic, about 80 percent of the seating capacity of the said branch was usually occupied, she noted. It’s the most popular among all five Toni & Guy branches and patronized by a number of VIPs and high-end customers.

“We’re hoping the IATF allows us to increase our service capacity. We’re not like restaurants; our staff and the clients don’t have to remove our masks. And we are all vaccinated. Our clients are also vaccinated,” Reyes stressed.

Beauty salons, barbershops, and nail spas are allowed to service up to a maximum of 30-percent venue/seating capacity if services are done outdoors. Many hair salons, however, are located inside malls and have no outdoor spaces.

The experimental Alert Level System being implemented by the IATF in Metro Manila will last until September 30. After an assessment, the IATF will decide if this can be applied nationwide. 

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