Religious institutions, malls and restaurants reopened for business in some parts of India yesterday, more than 21/2 months after they were shut down in March.
The cautious reopening came even as India recorded nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, its biggest daily spike since the pandemic hit the country.
It is now the fifth hardest-hit country in the world, with more Covid-19 cases than Italy or Spain.
As of yesterday, it had recorded more than 260,000 Covid-19 cases, with over 7,200 deaths.
The southern city of Bangalore was abuzz as restaurants, malls and places of worship were allowed to open again. The city corporation and the Karnataka state government issued guidelines for all establishments that reopened, like keeping a record of delivery agents.
Malls except those in containment zones were open, but only half their shops seemed open. Security guards and salespeople welcomed guests with a temperature gun and a bottle of hand sanitiser.
Vehicles entering the building were also being sprayed with sanitiser, but an employee at one mall was unsure if he should spray the whole car and bike or only the tyres. “This spray is not to clean mud, it’s for a virus you can’t see,” a supervisor tried to explain to the nervous housekeeping staff.
Business remained lean at malls and shopping centres in New Delhi, with only a few people stepping out to shop or eat.
Major malls in Noida, one of Delhi’s satellite cities, remained shut but most restaurants, including franchises of global chains such as McDonald’s, remained open only for delivery and take-away orders.
Some customers were still conscious of the raging pandemic. “I am not confident yet to dine out. I need to wait at least another month or so,” said Mr Madhukar Asthana, 54, a businessman.
While some were still sanitising their establishments before re-opening, others remained uncertain about what best practices they should adopt to ensure safety.
“It think it is going to take another week or so for guests to start coming in,” said Mr Paritosh Chakravarti, 55, whose Noida-based restaurant Aatithyam was opened for dine-in customers but received none until 5pm.
At a few sit-in restaurants in Bangalore, masked families with children ordered three-course meals but ate them rapidly. The biggest crowds were in south Indian fast-food joints where customers stood against tall tables or on pavements.
Mr Arun Shetty, who manages an outlet of the Taaza Thindi chain, rattled off the new standard operating procedure to prevent infections: encouraging digital transactions, sanitising all touch points and tables, as well as pushing for takeaways.
“Our migrant waiters went home a month ago. We now have one-third the staff, most of whom live nearby,” said Mr Shetty.
Many restaurants had Covid-19 posters near the cash counters, markings on the floor, no air-conditioning, and no menu cards placed on the tables.
Temples also witnessed the return of some devout worshippers, but people over the age of 60 or under 10 were not being allowed into the five-century-old Bull Temple in south Bangalore.
Head priest Mr Sunil Kumar said the popular temple usually has more tourists than locals, but the pandemic has changed that. “About 50 locals came this morning.”
The Archdiocese of Bangalore said 110 churches would open only after June 13. Mosques have removed prayer mats and asked people to conduct ablutions (cleaning ritual) at home.
Some other Indian states have decided against reopening.
All religious places, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants will continue to remain closed in the eastern state of Odisha till June 30. West Bengal has also extended its lockdown until then.
And Mizoram, another eastern state, reverted to a two-week total lockdown starting today, following a sudden spurt in cases.