KARACHI: As shopping malls reopened in the city after over two months on Tuesday, they were met by a mixed response by customers. While some malls saw an influx of consumers rushing to buy items for Eidul Fitr, others remained largely empty.
The Sindh government gave permission for shopping malls to open throughout the week, a day after the Supreme Court ordered that malls across the country be reopened. As per the notification issued, the malls may remain open from 8am to 5pm, on the condition that they implement the government's standard operating procedures (SOPs). Beauty salons, play areas and food courts in malls are to remain closed.
Despite the conditions placed on the reopening, many customers opted to ignore the need for face masks. Of those who did wear them, several took them off after entering the malls, while even employees at malls across the city only implemented this partially.
"We are not supposed to allow customers without masks in the shop premises, but what can we do when five people of a family come along and don't listen to us?" asked a shop employee at Atrium Mall, Saddar.
The mall administration, on its part, had made necessary arrangements such as setting up disinfectant gates and checking the temperatures of visitors to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, they claimed to be helpless in the face of customers breaching the rules.
"Most people oblige us when we ask them to wear the mask. We even provide masks to those who don't have them, but some people are reluctant and give excuses, saying the masks are suffocating for them. We can't kick them out," complained an employee at a clothing store.
Despite Eid being around the corner, the number of customers was far lower than usual. Yet, despite the restrictions on entry of children and the elderly, both were seen roaming freely.
A mask dangling below her chin, an elderly woman smiled, saying, "I am an asthma patient so I don't wear masks all the time. But the security guards would not have allowed me in if I hadn't brought it with me."
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At Dolmen Mall on Tariq Road, similar precautionary measures had been taken, with shops asking each customer to use hand sanitisers before entering. However, crowds of people were seen in the shops, without paying heed to social distancing.
"We cannot allow people with body temperatures of more than 98 degrees," explained an employee, adding that though they were allowed to have 15 people in the store, they were only allowing eight people at a time. "We ask others to wait for their turn."
Other malls across the city, too, only made partial arrangements to follow the SOPs.
"The Chief Justice of Pakistan has already announced that no provincial government can take action against malls and markets violating the SOPs. Why would shopkeepers deal strictly with consumers and turn them away without letting them purchase anything?" asked Junaid Awan, visiting a mall to buy clothes for his family. "You can see for yourself how many people have lowered their masks, visiting shops as if the pandemic is now over."
At other malls, the crowds swelled to such an extent that people shoved each other in attempts to get to their desires shops, without any pretense at following SOPs.
"Where's the coronavirus?" questioned a shopkeeper, when asked about the government's guidelines. "Stop spreading fear and leave us alone!"
Provincial minister Saeed Ghani, at a press conference on the day, explained that the Sindh government was following the guidelines recommended by health experts to save the lives of people. "The Supreme Court has ordered us to open the malls, so we will implement the order. We have no other option."