ISLAMABAD: After pressure from traders that the Islamabad police were unnecessarily harassing shopkeepers selling essential food items, the capital administration issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) to be followed by the shopkeepers.

One of the trader leaders, Ajmal Baloch, had even issued a strongly-worded statement against the administration and police over the arrest of shopkeepers not following the coronavirus precautionary measures issued by the government.

He decried that the new SOP made the shopkeepers bound to ensure availability of sanitisers for their staff as well as customers.

“This is an additional burden and unnecessary as customers handle money too, but do they wash currency notes too,” he said.

Asks them to ensure availability of sanitisers for staff, customers

The traders also criticised the official requirement that “owners will submit an undertaking to the concerned SHO to adopt the directions before opening their shops”.

Mr Baloch said: “There is no description of the kind of undertaking to be submitted to the SHO. It seems the government wants to discourage food suppliers from opening their outlets.”

The matter got serious in the past two days after precautionary measures were implemented and police started to enforce them at small shops that led to confusion among the shopkeepers who took up the matter with their respective trade bodies.

“We had to run from one police station to another only because one or two shopkeepers were arrested from each market mainly because their customers were standing in clusters,” said Mr Baloch.However, the traders welcomed the issuance of the SOP by the capital administration, saying it will remove the confusion.

Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat, in a statement, said the purpose of the SOP was to provide a framework for shops to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

He said shopkeepers and their staff including those selling naan/roti, grocery stores, milk, fruits and vegetables have to wear masks and use sanitisers.

“Every open shop will ensure presence of masks for staff and sanitisers for staff/clients,” said the SOP.

Moreover, shopkeepers and staffs will keep a distance of six feet between them. Customers will keep a distance of two feet from the counter and all customers will maintain six feet’s distance between them in and outside shops while queues will be maintained with a distance of six feet.

Two square yards per person is allowed inside shops. The grocery, food and chemist shops will open with multiple sections.

Officials said the capital administration had earlier ordered closure of all marakiz, markets and shopping malls except medical stores and shops of edibles items, including grocery, meat and milk along with food outlets only for takeaway. But the order was violated largely as a number of owners opened their shops on the pretext of selling edibles.

Besides, the stores were asked to sell only edibles but they also operated sections of other items, including cosmetics and utensils. Keeping the violation in view which may result in the spread of Covid-19 due to gatherings at shops, the capital administration put further restrictions on the owners.

Stores having sections of different items will only sell edible items and medicines.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020