Dilemma on reopening shoping malls

Professor AHM Zehadul Karim

Of late the government has decided to allow the shopping malls and shops to reopen for resuming their business from May 10 ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr which puts the shop owners themselves in a hard dilemma and quandary as the coronavirus situation in the country is still not stable. 

Every day, the number of coronavirus patients is increasing at a rapid pace and there is no sign of lowering the trend of victims for the last one month until now. People are still panicky and with a few exceptions, most of us are following the government instructions very strictly by staying at home with an understanding that the situation might improve in future. 

Yet, it often becomes uncontrollable for the police administration to keep people at home especially those who have to earn their everyday livelihood as petty businessmen, traders and vendors. We cannot however, deny their contribution as these petty sellers often keep people supplying everyday requirement of food items for daily consumption at the neighborhood level. 

Among the South East Asian countries, Indonesia has been severely affected by the corona pandemic but, as soon as the nationwide lockdown was loosened, they first allowed the local vendors to start their business in the neighborhoods avoiding shoppers agglomerating in large numbers in fixed places; rather, the shopkeepers themselves started moving on to the customers flexibly. 

As part of implementing strict rules, customers are required to wear masks and also they have to sit apart from each other while waiting for their turn to shop and wash their hands before and after shopping. In Bangladesh, we may also think of adopting such plan with the initiatives of our local government administration where the commissioners in their respective areas may supervise the vendors selling their food items around many neighborhoods in Dhaka and other parts of the country.

While the government has decided to permit the shopping towns, the shopkeepers and owners however,  were in a liminal situation as in one point, they thought that the opening of the shops for a certain time and days might allow them to compensate partially the loss they had incurred in the last one or two months. 

But on the other hand, many of them were suspecting that the customers might not be interested to come for shopping if the corona pandemic accelerates further. One of the owners even mentioned in his statement that ‘the reality is that we do not need to reopen the shops because the number of coronavirus patients is increasing everyday’. 

Moreover, the shopkeepers themselves are in suspicion as to whether they will be able to compel the customers to follow the rules and conditions set by the government. Reportedly, three chiefs of Traders Associations of New Market, Chandni Chawk and Chandrima Super Market in Dhaka have decided not to reopen their shops before Eid considering the health safety of their customers as well as their salesmen and other surrounding people. 

Bashudhara City Complex and Jamuna Future Park however, earlier had decided to keep their shopping complexes closed amidst this pandemic situation as perhaps they thought that it would not be a wise to keep them open as the shoppers will be scared of visiting the markets at this critical situation. 

As good sense prevailed, many shopping complexes in Chittagong and some other parts of the country including the divisional cities and towns also have been kept closed until now as they apprehended that the number of infectors might increase in future as many factories and industries were already opened. 

These steps of the businessmen are appraised positively and also they are appreciated by the majority of the people in the country. In many parts of the world, the decision on opening the shops only took place following the decline in the number of coronavirus cases in their respective countries.

Meanwhile after having received such news of relaxation, people have had started flooding back to Dhaka already over the situation of coronavirus pandemic with the Eid-ul-Fitre approaching nearer. People with packed-ferries enrooted to Dhaka from different parts of the country are now moving  in the capital at a time when the country is grappling with coronavirus crisis. 

On arrival of the ferries along with the vehicles on board hundreds of passengers poured out of it are trying to find out their transportation making all waited vehicles active to carry and rush them to Dhaka. Under this situation, people remaining under lockdown at Dhaka becomes little frustrated and simultaneously, it is quite likely that they get terrified as all people again come on the streets making it crowded being careless about social distancing which eventually may endanger the whole city. 

Moreover, when shops and shopping towns are opened, other religious and non-religious institutions also often put pressure on opening theirs as there was a news some days before where film producers in the country surprisingly were demanding to open the cinema halls, but it was however, justly refuted by the owners. 

Many renowned medical practitioners in the country were also suggesting that it would have been better if we could wait a few days more to observe the synchronous COVID-19 situation prior to opening the shops. Whatever may be the situation however, we have every confidence in our Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina as until now all her decisions regarding COVID-19 have proved to be very timely and accurate which are appreciated by many people within and outside the country. 

It seems that the Prime Minister has been very sympathetic about people’s sentiments at this time of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr for which she allowed the opening of shops at a smaller scale. While delivering her speech, the Prime Minister was consistently reminded the shopkeepers and the shoppers to follow the rules formulated by the government as well as to go along with all other irrevocable accountability of the ‘WHO-coronavirus procedures’ which are very much essential for the safety of the nations around the world. 

In the mean time, the President of Bangladesh Shop Owners Association mentioned that it is expected that not everyone open the shops but at least some shops in the residential areas may remain open to facilitate the services to the people at a limited scale. 

Yet, it is essential for everyone wearing facial masks and hand gloves while they go for shopping and since the time is crucial and decisive, it is expected that not many people rush for shopping in a single store as there is no reason to detract themselves from their own safety. Admittedly, life is always more important than livelihood, but at the same time, we have to ensure that no one's life is in danger owing to shortfall of livelihood. 

Being very flexible, we may simultaneously observe the situation for few days as to how our people are behaving in the shops, and concurrently hope that the COVIC-19 situation does not worsen further in Bangladesh. 

Professor AHM Zehadul Karim is a former Vice Chancellor of a public university in Bangladesh and now teaches at Jagannath University