After witnessing more than two months of COVID-induced nationwide lockdown, the country on Monday (June 8) is all set to enter a new phase with Unlock 1 that will see the re-opening of public places like malls, shopping centres, restaurants and places of worship.
The managements of around 3,810 malls and shopping complexes in India (as per ixigo.com) have issued detailed guidelines to shops, offices, and restaurant owners to keep the infection at bay.
While the standard operation procedures (SOPs) issued for restaurants mandate them to limit the number of diners and abide by the curfew time of 9 pm to close service, many owners say these guidelines will make their operations unviable and that it is better to stay closed.
Malls will focus on hourly disinfection of common areas, contact-less shopping and physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In Delhi for instance, there are around 100 big and small shopping malls, which generate around ₹500 crore revenue for the government, according to Brijesh Goyal, the convenor of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) traders’ wing.
“Business activity in malls is carried out in a much more organised way as compared to the shops in markets,” he said, adding that the shopping malls in Delhi employ about 10,000 people.
Several malls have set up UV sterilisation chambers for people to disinfect their belongings.
“We have asked our staff to report an hour before the malls are opened for the public. After the mandatory screening, the employees will be given face-shields, gloves and sanitiser,” Harsh Vardhan Bansal, the director of Vegas Mall in Dwarka, said.
Shops, restaurants and offices have been asked to keep their doors open as common surfaces like doorknobs or handles can spread the infection, he added.
The carrying capacity of elevators has been reduced by 25 per cent. Visitors will have to maintain a gap on escalators too, said Bansal, who is also the director of Unity 1 malls.
Visitors to malls will also be required to wear masks and install the Aarogya Setu app on their mobile phones. Pregnant women, children aged below 10 years and persons aged above 65 years will not be allowed entry.
In clothing stores, dummy shirts will be made available for a trial and sanitised after every use, Bansal said.
Manmohan Garg, the director of D Mall in Pitampura, said the metal surfaces and common areas of the complex will be disinfected regularly and thermal scanners and sanitiser dispensers have been placed at the entry gates and the visitors with COVID-19 symptoms will be asked to return.
The Health Ministry issued a set of SOPs on Thursday (June 4), curtailing the seating capacity to 50 per cent for restaurants, in accordance with an earlier order of the Home Ministry.
Citing social distancing norms, the SOPs also mandate a distance of at least six feet to be maintained in queues and inside restaurants.
Asking restaurants to encourage takeaways instead of dine-ins, it says only asymptomatic staff are allowed to work and entrances to all properties must have sanitiser dispensers and thermal screening provisions.
The restaurant sector may have incurred revenue losses of over ₹80,000 crore in the two-and-a-half months of lockdown, estimates National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) president Anurag Katriar.
The Indian restaurant industry employed 7.3 million people in 2018-19, according to the NRAI India Food Services Report 2019.
“It’s not just about the seating,” Katriar said.
“As far as seating is concerned, the SOP mentions only two things 50 per cent capacity and six feet distance. But restaurants are of different shapes and sizes. Now, a restaurant that is 10 ft wide and 15 ft in length, wont be able to accommodate more than two tables,” he explained.
Joy Singh, co-partner at Raasta and Yeti-The Himalayan Kitchen, said he does not understand the discrimination being meted out to the restaurant industry by the government.
He said restaurants do most of their business after 9 pm when people are done with the day’s work, and alcohol is a major draw at the time.
“About 85-90 per cent of our business comes after 9 pm. And we are not allowed to sell alcohol, which the government itself is selling. I don’t understand why,” Sukhija said.
With hotels in the country slated to throw open their doors to guests from June 8 in the midst of the fifth phase of the lockdown, those in the luxury category are taking additional safety measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19.
A spokesperson of Oberoi Grand, one of the oldest luxury properties in Kolkata, said several additional steps have been taken keeping in mind the risks regarding COVID-19 and the World Health Organisation and tourism ministry guidelines.
“All touchpoints in public areas like door handles, elevator buttons, counters and tabletops, railings are being cleaned continuously with sanitisers and disinfectants,” he said.
Public areas like the gym, swimming pool and the spa will remain closed, he said adding that the hotel is awaiting guidelines from the state government on reopening of banqueting facilities.
The spokesperson said that seating in the lobby and restaurants have been reconfigured to ensure safe distances are maintained between guests. Masterchefs will prepare dishes and drinks with wellness features and also to boost immunity.
The hotel will conduct temperature checking for all non-resident and resident guests once a day and all hotel staff will wear masks and disposable gloves during service. The hotels fleet of vehicles will be thoroughly sanitised before starting a trip, he said.
Premium luxury brand hotel ITC Royal Bengal has introduced contact light protocols and special training programmes have been arranged.
“We are expecting a surge in domestic travel,” a spokesperson of ITC Hotels said adding the hotel will accord prime importance to ensure social distancing in room allocation.
The hotel has re-engineered guest experiences with zero or low engagement, contactless payments at the outlets and safe distancing protocol, she said.
There will be mandatory temperature checks for all chefs and F&B associates, strict ingredient regulation and frequent disinfection of kitchen areas and equipment.
“The hotel will offer safe cars for travel within the city and comprehensive sanitization pre and post guest usage,” the spokesperson added. Other luxury hotels in the city will be similar protocols, sources in them said.
Places of worship
Having sanitised their premises and equipped premises with measures to implement social distancing norms, places of worship in the country are ready to throw their doors open to the faithful from Monday after remaining closed for nearly two-and-a-half months due to the lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the surge here in cases of coronavirus infection, various steps have been taken by the heads and management bodies of prominent shrines in the city that draw huge numbers of devotees, such as setting up sanitisation tunnels, prohibiting prasad distribution and floral offerings, using thermal guns to measure body temperatures, removing carpets and promoting the use of the Aarogya Setu app.
The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari said all the safety measures have been taken at the historical mosque that will reopen on Monday. He, however, said the government should reconsider its decision to open religious places as COVID-19 cases are fast increasing in Delhi.
At the Chhatarpur temple, a sanitisation tunnel has been set up and the numbers of devotees will be regulated to maintain social distancing as it opens on Monday.
“We are ensuring hourly sanitisation of items like railings that are frequently touched besides provisioning ample hand sanitisers and hand wash facilities for devotees. The number of people will be regulated so that at a given time not more than five people are in the sanctum ” said Kishor Chawla, CEO of the Chhatarpur temple complex.
Prasad, flowers and other items of rituals will be banned. Thermal guns will be used to screen people and any suspected coronavirus infected person will be referred to the health authorities, he said.
Sanitisation tunnels have also been set up at the Sis Ganj, Rakabganj and Bangla Sahib Gurdwaras. These tunnels will also be set up at the Nanak Piao gurudwara, said Manjinder Singh Sirsa, chairman of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee.
“The entire premises are being regularly sanitised. The area where devotees bow before the Guru Granth Sahib is also specially focused on. The number of entry and exit points have been increased to ensure social distancing is properly maintained,” Sirsa said.
He said no scarves will be offered to people and they will have to cover their heads with their own clothing.
Footwear will not be handled at the Gurudwara and sanitised water will be used for cleaning feet, he said.
Devotees will not sit in the shrine and will leave immediately after paying their obeisance to the Guru Granth Sahib, Sirsa said. He said there was a “contradiction” in the governments guidelines that banned prasad distribution but allowed langar (community kitchens).
“Langar is also prasad so we will not abandon the kada prasad distribution. Langar will be conducted following proper social distancing and sanitation norms ,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)