Businesses are gradually reopening, but are they embracing proper safety precautions?
June 12, 2020 10:50 AM NPT
By: Aditi Baral
While big corporations claim they have put in place adequate safety measures including PPE for their staff, many small businesses struggle to go beyond masks, sanitizers and ropes to combat coronavirus
KATHMANDU, June 12: After staying indoors for more than two and a half months, Prabha Khanal finally decided to reopen her clothing store that was shuttered since the beginning of the lockdown. The first thing Khadka did before opening her store was placing a notice that read: Kripaya mask lagayera matrai bhitraa aunu hola ani samaan jathavaavi nachunu hola (Please wear mask before entering, and avoid touching goods unnecessarily).
Although Khanal, a 45-year-old retailer who owns a cloth store in Machhegaun, decided to open her store, she fears that it is still not the right time to reopen her shop as the virus is spreading rapidly throughout the country. "It was necessary for me to reopen my shop as I've already faced huge losses due to the lockdown," she lamented. Her little initiative of placing such notice comes from her understanding to follow safety precautions against COVID-19 even in the littlest way possible. "I know it's still not safe to do so, but I have been trying to follow necessary precautions in every way I can."
Having experienced the worst impact on their businesses due to the lockdown imposed by the government, many big and small businesses across the valley are now gradually returning to work.
Considering the grievous consequences of the prolonged lockdown for every sector, the government has decided to relax the lockdown in five different stages. However, most businesses resumed their operations even before the government’s formal decision was made public.
"It's been over two months and our government is still depending on just a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. If this continues any longer then people will start dying out of starvation rather than the virus", Khanal explained in grief. This is the concern that did not stop her from reopening her business even when she has been hearing about the rapid rise in the cases of COVID-19, she says.
As of Wednesday, the country recorded 4,300 cases of COVID-19 and 15 deaths. The number keeps increasing with roughly 200 additional cases on a daily basis.
Considering the risk of further outbreak, businesses have been advised to strictly adhere to every safety measure.
Khanal's attempt to follow the necessary precautions is noteworthy. When Republica talked to Khanal, she was busy providing sanitizer to a customer entering her store and she maintained a distance with her customer, not letting more than two people enter her store.
But not every store or grocery mart which has been reopened is seen following the safety precautions. When Republica found Ram Bahadur (name changed) operating his grocery store in Satungal, without wearing a mask and letting customers form a crowd in his store, we asked him if he's aware about safety protocols that need to be followed. Ram was quick to respond, "I am well aware about the rules, but you are no one to remind me what I should do."
Ram's aggression came as the question seemed offensive to him, he claimed. After a few minutes of discussion, he then apologized and replied, "I've faced enough loss due to this lockdown. I wear masks and use sanitizers often but I haven't been able to do anything beyond that," adding," We're allowed to open our stores for a few hours and asking people to queue up and enter the store turn by turn means turning away many customers and losing business."
While small business firms like grocery stores are struggling to follow the safety precautions, big corporations like banks are embedding them with their business practices. Stores, marts and banks, among others, are places which witness crowds.
Bankers say that they have embraced adequate safety measures with utmost priority.
"A guideline for sanitation protocols was prepared by our association right after the lockdown was imposed. We've been strict with working under the guidelines" said Bhuvan Dahal, president of Nepal Bankers’ Association.
According to Dahal, who is also the CEO at Sanima Bank, banks have significantly reduced the numbers of customers entering their premises. "Banks have decided to allow only one-third people compared to the pre-lockdown era" he told Republica.
Staff from several banks have also expressed satisfaction with these workplace safety measures. "All of us are provided with good quality masks and sanitizers and staff working in the cash department are also provided with PPE's. They're provided with safety glasses and helmets", said Sharmila Thapa, a staff at Nepal Investment Bank.
Thapa mentioned that these sanitary essentials distributed at her workplace makes her feel safe."Initially, I was skeptical about going back to work. But, my fears are all gone after I saw how the management has prioritized safety precautions," she said.
Before the outbreak was termed as a pandemic, the World Health Organization had already prepared guidelines for protecting oneself and others from the spreading COVID-19. The guideline included precautions like regularly cleaning hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash, maintaining at least one meter distance with another person, avoiding crowded places and following good respiratory hygiene, among others.
NBA President Dahal said that banks have taken steps beyond common sanitary precaution as advised by the WHO.
“We even consulted health experts from Teku hospital to come up with sanitary measures,” he said. “Guards wearing proper PPE check temperatures of customers with retro thermometers and anyone suspected with abnormal temperature is turned away,” he said. “Banks have drawn spots with 2-3 meters of distances inside the cash departments and people are strictly told to stay within the marked spots.”
However, small and medium businesses like Khanal's and Ram’s stores struggle to go beyond wearing masks, using sanitizers and putting in ropes to maintain distance.
They say measures embraced by big businesses are onerous and costlier for them.
“We cannot operate our business using a complete set of PPE. We can’t even stay indoors waiting for the government’s response. All we can do is to follow sanitary precautions in every possible way we can and carry on with a strong and hopeful spirit,” Khanal said.