Guarded welcome as malls, cafes and temples reopen after 75-day lockdown

The wait’s over: An employee prays as his bus proceeds to the Lord Venkateswara temple in Tirupati on Monday. The temple will open to general public on June 11

The wait’s over: An employee prays as his bus proceeds to the Lord Venkateswara temple in Tirupati on Monday. The temple will open to general public on June 11   | Photo Credit: K.V. Poornachanda Kumar

Metro and suburban rail services, educational institutions, gymnasiums, cinema halls, bars and auditoriums remained closed.

Places of worship, malls and restaurants reopened in many parts of the country on Monday as India bid a graded goodbye to a stringent 75-day lockdown intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 even as positive cases continued to grow in many States and cities.

Also read: Coronavirus | Health Ministry issues new guidelines for hotels, malls

Metro and suburban rail services, educational institutions, gymnasiums, cinema halls, bars and auditoriums remained closed in line with a May 30 Home Ministry order. Their reopening will be reviewed in July and subsequent months.

Visitors trickled into malls in Delhi with stringent temperature checks at entry points and shop doors. At Select City Walk mall in Saket, the food court was open during lunch hour but only four or five tables were occupied.

Regulated seating

In Connaught Place, restaurants were allowing customers to enter with regulated seating. Managers at restaurants said barely any customers were coming in and those who did were made to sit far apart.

Also read: Coronavirus India lockdown Day 76 updates | June 8, 2020

As India opened up further, Mizoram became the odd State out by imposing a total lockdown for two weeks from Tuesday, less than a week after “unlocking”. The quarantine period for returnees has also been from 14 to 21 days with immediate effect. The decisions have been taken to ramp up RT-PCR testing, officials said.

Mumbai opened up with many private offices opening with 10% of staff strength. Markets also opened and State bus operators put on extra buses to cater to commuters. Mumbaikars had to stand in long queues with the average waiting time being nearly an hour as the city’s lifeline, the suburban train services, remained suspended. At bus stops, many discarded notions of physical distancing and jostled with one another for limited seats. According to government directives, only one person was allowed on each seat and five people were allowed to stand in buses.

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In Bengaluru, people were seen standing in queues to get darshan at the big temples. There were markers to keep a safe distance, with thermal checking and sanitisers at the entrance of the temples. Ravishankar G.N. of the famous Dodda Ganapathi temple’s Managing Committee said, “There is no distribution of theertha [holy water] and prasada. People can get darshan. People are cooperating and we are thankful to them.”

Disposable plates

Restaurants that opened in the city imposed precautionary measures for both customers and employees. Some restaurants had made “compartments” on tables so that physical contact was avoided. Many restaurants were serving food in disposable plates only.

With Tamil Nadu’s tally of COVID-19 cases crossing 33,000, the State was measured in offering relaxations. Bus services were yet to resume in the hotspots of Chennai and neighbouring districts of Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu. The remaining parts of the State have been divided into six zones for bus operations. While industries have reopened, production suffered for want of workers as much of the workforce had returned home.

Also read: Coronavirus | More relaxations as Tamil Nadu extends lockdown till June-end

On its part, Kerala permitted the opening up of places of worship and government offices in a restricted manner. The grim shadow cast by the outbreak prompted social organisations cutting across the religious spectrum to declare almost unanimously that a majority of the temples, mosques and churches would remain shuttered in the public interest.

However, there were some exceptions. The government said temples owned by the Travancore, Kochi and Malabar Devaswom Boards would admit devotees in a limited manner. Sabarimala would open for pilgrimage on June 14. The Guruvayoor temple would allow devotees from Tuesday.

Attendance in Kerala government offices showed an upswing. Most hotels in the State announced that they would not allow dine-in facilities for now because of the fear of enhanced transmission of the virus in walled-off spaces.

In Kolkata, shopping malls and restaurants opened with strict health protocols. Masks were a must, so was thermal screening and use of sanitisers. Surprisingly, many people turned up during lunch hour.

“We did not expect so many of our regular customers on day one,” said Tanmoy Manna, a south Kolkata café manager. Well known Park Street restaurant Peter Cat had many waiting outside during lunch hour as seating capacity had been halved. Government offices opened too and people were out in large numbers. But getting public transport was a challenge.

In Hyderabad, multi-brand malls, restaurants, religious places, and large retail outlets opened to a lukewarm response. “No offerings. Please leave the flowers and coconut here and pray inside,” devotees at the 200-year-old Balaji Temple in Hyderabad were told.

Across the city, smaller restaurants and roadside food stalls had few takers in the morning hours. “Please show Aarogya Setu app,” read a sign held up at one of the malls by a security guard in PPE holding a thermal scanner. “No app, no entry. You can download now and enter,” he said helpfully. But very few visitors could be seen going in.

In Andhra Pradesh, the hill temple of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala was opened for darshan but was restricted to temple employees and their family members for the first two days. Senior citizens and children are not permitted to visit the temple. The general public will be allowed in from June 11.

(With Bureau inputs)

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2020 4:28:23 PM |

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