Markets witness shopping frenzy in total disregard of Covid-19 precautions

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Murree Road is choked with traffic on Monday after a lockdown of three days. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Murree Road is choked with traffic on Monday after a lockdown of three days. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI: After a three-day lockdown, citizens thronged markets of the twin cities on Monday, ignoring the standard operating procedures (SOPs) like social distancing.

It seemed that the lockdown imposed in the capital in the last week of March after the outbreak of the coronavirus has almost been lifted. Only a few activities still remained closed, including educational institutions, restaurants and public transport.

In Rawalpindi, shops and businesses are allowed to open from 8am to 5pm.

Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat said all shopping malls, shops and retailers’ outlets, barber shops and salons were allowed to open seven days a week.

He said all marakiz, commercial centres, malls, retailers’ outlets, barber shops and salons will remain open after Eid too.

On May 9, the capital administration had extended the lockdown to May 31. On May 11, however, it allowed opening of all marakiz and commercial centers five days a week.

On Monday, majority of the markets and commercial centres were crowded and there was no space for parking and even enough room for people to move around easily.

The most important part of the guidelines was to maintain social distancing but it was not being followed anywhere, especially at garments and cloth shops and stalls.

People were not wearing masks, gloves; sanitisers not available in shops

Besides, people were also not wearing masks and gloves and there was no availability of sanitisers in shops for the shoppers. Traders’ unions were made responsible to get the guidelines implemented but they failed to ensure it, said one official.

The closing time of Marakiz and commercial centres is 5pm but this was also not being followed.

The guidelines were violated everywhere but more at G-9, Blue Area, Bhara Kahu and Taramri and the situation was not different at I-10, G-10, G-11, F-6 and F-7 markets.

Moreover, the capital administration also issued an SOP for Islamabad Golf Club under which all members should sign an undertaking prior to a game otherwise they will not be allowed to play.

Rawalpindi

Thousands of people, including women and children, thronged markets and roads in Rawalpindi on Monday.

The most crowded places included Fawwara Chowk, Raja Bazaar, Moti Bazaar and Commercial Market in Satellite Town.

Long queues of vehicles, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, pickup vans and cars were seen on roads while traffic started blocking on different roads, including Mareer Chowk, Liaquat Bagh, Fawwara Chowk and Commercial Market.

At some places, people were trying to avoid the crowd. Majority of the people were not wearing face masks though some traders were using masks and sanitisers besides following social distancing.

A senior police official said shopkeepers should follow the regulations and guidelines.

“It will be unwise if we lose the benefits gained over the last two months by staying at home which had been hard for everybody. So it’s important even though the government has allowed opening of business. We should not ignore the guidelines to keep ourselves and others safe from the virus.”

Some traders and shoppers also expressed concerns over people not observing social distancing and said it was a difficult and challenging time and people should follow the guidelines.

Mazhar Ali, a trader at Murree Road, said a large number of people were in the markets and flouting the coronavirus precautions.

There have been a number of incidents reported where public and transporters also flouted social distancing and other guidelines. Wagons plying between Kutchery Chowk and Rawat were seen packed and the drivers without face masks.

A police official said the government’s guidelines on maintaining a two metre distance from each other, avoiding public transport and wearing face masks in enclosed spaces were not enforceable by public as well as law enforcement agencies.

The police could not make measures to stop crowding and violation of other guidelines as one official said it was beyond their capacity.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2020