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SOPs a casualty of Raya shopping fever?

Crowds of customers at malls and bazaars are making it difficult to enforce physical distancing rules.

Farhira Farudin and Siva Selan
3 minute read
Crowds of people cross the road in front of a popular textile outlet in downtown Kuala Lumpur, as preparations for the Hari Raya celebration gather pace.
Crowds of people cross the road in front of a popular textile outlet in downtown Kuala Lumpur, as preparations for the Hari Raya celebration gather pace.

SOP compliance appears to be on the wane in some areas as much of the country gears up to celebrate Hari Raya amid a fierce spike in Covid-19 cases which has left Malaysia firmly entrenched in the four-digit zone despite earlier hopes of getting numbers under control by May.

Bazaars, textile outlets and boutiques are just some of the hotspots ahead of this year’s Hari Raya, the second to be observed under the shadow of the pandemic.

With crowds beginning to gather once more, the question is how to enforce physical distancing – a key factor in controlling the spread of Covid-19.

Checks by MalaysiaNow at popular shopping spots like Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur and Seksyen 7 in Shah Alam found poor SOP compliance among most shoppers.

Some at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman who spoke to MalaysiaNow said they were there mainly for nostalgic reasons and to revive the festive spirit.

Suria, a housewife from Ampang, said she was visiting the Aidilfitri bazaar as she was unable to do so last year.

“I haven’t gone out for so long, so that’s why I’m here.

“I’m only here for window shopping, I don’t think I’ll buy anything,” she added.

Customers queue for entry to an Aidilfitri bazaar in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur.

Wati meanwhile said she was there as she felt it was a necessary practice every Hari Raya.

“I came here just to stroll around as I purchased my Hari Raya clothes in January,” she said.

“I just feel like I should visit the bazaar this year and see what they have to offer.”

But whether they are serious shoppers or just looking around, the crowds of customers are proving a challenge for shop owners and staff who must ensure that everyone at their outlet follows health SOPs.

Sam, a supervisor at a department store in Shah Alam, said crowd control was particularly challenging on weekends as customers prefer going to physical shops to try on clothes instead of ordering them online.

“Before Covid-19, the crowd was much better but now, after the lockdown, it’s getting worse.

“Everyone wants to go out because they have been saving their money for Raya shopping,” he told MalaysiaNow.

Sam’s staff do their best to ensure that customers follow SOPs by providing queue numbers to limit the number of visitors at a time.

At the check-out counters, only one person is allowed to pay at a time. Customers are diverted to other cashiers if the queue becomes too long.

Regular announcements are also made through loudspeakers to remind customers to keep a safe distance from each other.

But in spite of their best efforts, Sam estimates that SOP compliance is about “50-50”.

“Some customers follow but some cannot. They just do what they want,” he said.

Bargain hunters search for good deals at a mall in Shah Alam.

At the bazaar in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, only 200 people are allowed in at a time. Each stall is manned by two staff, and only three visitors are allowed at any given time.

But these precautions mean that many others queue for hours for a chance to enter the bazaar.

A shop owner at Arked Jalan Bunus said customers were willing to do so as they were unable to visit bazaars last year.

“The way I see it, the public cannot bear to stay at home for too long.

“Especially during Raya season like this, they are willing to queue up just so they can buy their Raya goods,” she said.

Still, health experts warn that maintaining a safe distance is a top concern as crowds persist despite heavy fines and ample information on how Covid-19 spreads.

Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah, president of the Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia, said much of this is due to poor law enforcement.

“Our problem is enforcement, not the quantum of the fines,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“With poor enforcement, there’s no use raising fine amounts from RM1,000 to RM10,000.”

Meanwhile, Dr Kuljit Singh who heads the Association of Private Hospitals, Malaysia, warned that hospitals across the country are running out of beds for Covid-19 patients.

He said getting treatment would be difficult when too many daily cases are reported and hospitals can no longer accept patients.

He advised sending one representative per family to do any shopping needed for the festive season to avoid overcrowding at malls and bazaars.

“I know the whole family wants to go out to shop, but by doing so, you are depriving the others.

“We need to follow some sort of order. If we don’t, eventually everything will shut down.”