Coronavirus protocols impossible as people crowd markets, traders say
Statesman Report
KARACHI: Traders and retailers have slammed the government’s standard operating procedures as impractical, with consumers braving rising summer temperatures to queue outside the country’s markets and major retail outlets just a week before Eid.
As authorities eased the lockdown nationwide and markets resumed brick-and-mortar business activities for the first time since March 23, a huge influx of people thronged shops despite a surge in coronavirus infections around the country.
But the strict regulations under which business activities were allowed to resume are practically impossible to implement, retailers said.
“The massive influx of people was much expected due to the seasonal Eid shopping but implementation of SOPs due to limited timings and days is not practically possible,” Rana Tariq Mehboob, Chairman of the Chainstore Association of Pakistan (CAP), told Arab News.
CAP is a representative body of over 200 Pakistani brands that operate 20,000 outlets between them.
“Practically it (SOPs) is an eyewash, and it is not benefiting the economy… instead it is putting more pressure,” Mehboob said.
The government has so far allowed business activities between the hours of 8 am to 4 pm from Monday to Thursday, with shop owners held responsible for the violation of SOPs -- which includes barring entry without masks and limiting the number of people inside at any one time.
But as thousands of people jammed roads and main marketplaces when the stores opened earlier this week, authorities sealed off dozens of stores in the main cities, including Karachi and Lahore.
“At the moment the implementation of these strict SOPs does not seem possible because the buyers are too many and they want to buy in minimum time,” Atiq Mir, Chairman of Karachi Tajir Itehad, an alliace of Karachi’s market associations, told Arab News.
“I think not even a single market can operate with SOPs due to shortage of time,” he said.
Shopkeepers also complained that the customers were not cooperative.
“People are not cooperating, nor do they wear masks and neither do they keep a reasonable distance,” Tariq Ismail, a shopkeeper in Karachi’s Saddar market said.
“Many markets in the city have been sealed and the rush has diverted to other markets which is not manageable,” he added.
Though authorities have barred the entry of children into markets, a large number of mothers came out with their children in tow.
“The size of my children’s shoes and clothes has changed since last year and it is not possible to buy without proper measurements. I can’t make rounds to get the things changed,” a Karachi shopper, Lubna Ahmed, told Arab News.
Retailers said that a Ramadan culture built around starting the day late was also proving to be a major hurdle in the implementation of government protocols, which condensed traffic at certain peak hours later in the afternoon just before the stores closed.
“We have developed culture of late night sleep and late wake up… and in Ramadan this practice is followed more rigidly. The peak time that was usually 8-10pm in normal days has now become 2-4pm due to which people rush to the markets, creating huge crowds,” CAP chief Mehboob said.
However, he said, the big crowds did not translate into big sales figures.
Due to recessionary mode, joblessness and close to zero business activities, he said buyers who ordinarily bought five items on average were now buying only one-- despite hefty discounts offered by retailers.
“If our normal day’s revenue was Rs100, it is now down to Rs10-15 while our liabilities on account of salaries, rents and party payments kept rising due to lockdown,” Mehboob said.
“Revenue of retailers was Rs19.2 billion per day in normal days. The lockdown has caused revenue loss of around Rs1 trillion so far,” he said.
With stores open for only four more days next week before Eid weekend in Pakistan, traders expect an even greater influx of customers in the coming days.
“The administration should deploy police and volunteers at entry points of markets to control the rush,” Kashif Chaudhry, President of Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan, a central organization of traders, told Arab News.
“To avoid the rush [of people], the government should allow business activities round-the-clock and seven days a week,” he said.
Pakistan on Saturday reported almost 39,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with at least 834 deaths.