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As shops open, social distancing remains a challenge

By Pavneet Singh Chadha and Dhananjay Jha, Gurugram
PUBLISHED ON MAY 22, 2020 11:10 PM IST

As shops open across the city, customers and shopkeepers are struggling to adapt to the “new normal”- the challenge of living with the virus and the norms that come with it. The fear of contracting the infection has altered perception and behaviour, according to several customers and shopkeepers.

Take for example, social distancing measures.

Earlier this week two women entered a shop to purchase household items at Vyapar Kendra in Sushant Lok. The shopkeeper said he asked them to maintain a distance of three feet between them as he checked the list of items. The women allegedly told him that they were from the same family and refused to move. An argument broke out and the police had to be called in to settle the matter.

“Though most customers are quite aware of the risks and wear masks, often when they are standing in a queue, some get restless and try to barge in,” said Rameet Singh, a trader in Vyapar Kendra. “I placed a rope at the entrance barring any entry and marked circles one-metre apart outside for people to form a queue. The customers are also reluctant to pay in cash. It will take some time before social distancing becomes a part of psyche.”

On May 18, the central government, while extending the lockdown it had announced on March 24 to May 31, gave state governments the power to decide how to go about implementing the restrictions. In Gurugram, shops were allowed to open but follow strict health protocols.

On Wednesday, the district administration issued directives on shops. Accordingly, standalone shops, those in Haryana Shahari Vikas Pradhikaran markets and commercial markets, selling essential products, can remain open the whole week from 7.30am to 9pm and placed them under category A. The authorities categorised other shops in two categories B (plumbers, electricians, AC repair, etc) and C (gift items, toys, bags and suitcases, jewellery, and bedding and furniture).

Those under B can open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 8am and 6 pm, while shops in C can remain open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8 am to 6pm. Not more than five people are allowed inside a shop.

Tej Singh, president, Vyapar Kendra, Sushant Lok, said, “We have issued guidelines to all 800 units in the complex regarding the use of sanitisers, masks and maintaining distance. But, both traders and customers need to be compliant of the guidelines and exercise caution.”

The shop owners said they struggle to ensure that visitors maintain a distance of three feet.

“I have a small shop in a 16-square yard space with pedestrian space in front. I cannot ask visitors to wait in queue in the corridor in order to maintain three feet distance between two customers as this is impossible. I will lose customers,” said a shop owner in sector 14 HUDA market.

Even for customers, purchasing goods has been quite an experience. This week, Sameeksha, a resident of sector 31, went out to purchase essentials for the first time since the lockdown was announced on March 24.

“There was a queue outside the shop. When my turn came, the guard recorded my body temperature, applied sanitiser and then gave me a pair of gloves before I could enter the shop. It was dystopian,” she said.

Abhinay Baweja, who owns a shop in sector 31, said, “One of the grocery stores in the market is only allowing one member of a family to enter the shop to conduct the purchasing. He told me he had to institute the rule as the several families were shopping in a group and not paying heed to guidelines.”

Sunil Yadav, member of Palam Vihar Vyapar Kendra shop owners association, said, “Maintaining social distancing is a challenge for shop owners. A visitor is always in a hurry. As a responsible member of the market, we request shoppers to wait for their turn and not attempt to push others and avoid crowding. A circular has been issued to all members however to follow the guidelines.”

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