By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, June 19: After more than two months of closure, shops are reopening slowly across the country. But the lifting of restrictions does not mean that the coronavirus outbreak in the country is over. As of Wednesday, Nepal had 7211 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 20 deaths.
So, if anything, the easing of the lockdown should call for more vigilance. But many shop owners say that their resources in terms of precautions are limited.
“The big department stores have personal protective equipment (PPE) and face shields for their staff, but we must make do with masks and gloves,” said Sandip Mahatara, who runs a grocery store in Swayambhu, Kathmandu. “Neither can we afford such safety items nor do we know where and how to get them,” he said.
As The Rising Nepal was talking to him, a customer came to his shop to buy a carton of noodles and a bottle of ketchup. Before serving him, Mahatara asked him to rub sanitizer on his hands. “This is the most we can do in the name of safety,” he said. He also informed that he washed his gloves and mask in a solution of hot water and Dettol antiseptic liquid every day.
Bidya Shakya, owner of a bag shop in Mahapal, Lalitpur, informed that she mopped her store every hour with water and phenyl and sprayed disinfectant on her tables, chairs and bags. She also does not let more than one customer in her store at a time and makes sure to keep a distance of one metre with them. “I have marked the places where the customer and I should be standing to maintain adequate distance between us.”
But she still does not feel fully safe. “We are doing the best we can but I don’t think it is enough.” Asked what she meant by “enough” she said, “All sorts of customers come to the shop and you never know if one of them has the coronavirus. I also can’t turn anyone away based on suspicions because then I am losing business. A thermal gun and a face shield would be ideal but a small business like mine, that too opening for the first time after two months, can’t afford them.”
Mahanta Kumar Jaiswal has given up worrying altogether. He is a barber and his job requires him to be physically touching people all day long. “I wear gloves, apron and a mask and I sanitize my hands and scissors before and after every haircut,” he said. “I have left everything to fate. I don’t worry about the disease anymore.” He remarked that it was a choice between staying at home and being safe or working but being exposed to risk. “I choose working and earning money.”
Jaiswal claimed that shops and shopkeepers faced a high risk of infection but could do little to protect themselves. “Nobody is to blame here. This is the reality,” he said.