After a security check, customers are only allowed in after they sanitise their hands. (Express Photo By Pavan Khengre)
BALWINDER SINGH, a security guard deployed outside Ludhiana's Pavilion Mall, screens a car before letting it proceed towards the parking lot. He then steps aside, sanitises his hands and removes his face mask to take a deep breath. Balwinder has been wearing the mask for hours.
"Multiplex and gym in the mall are closed. But eating joints and shops are open, so entry inside is not barred. It is the same in other malls as well," he says.
Outside the main gate of Westend Mall on Ferozepur road, security guards can be seen wearing masks and carrying hand sanitiser bottles. After a security check, customers are only allowed in after they sanitise their hands. The service lane leading to the mall, which on a regular Sunday has about 20 minute waiting period to get inside the mall, is almost empty. Inside, there are less than 10 persons.
It was on Saturday that the Punjab government ordered closure of gyms, swimming pools and cinema halls till March 31. Deputy Commisisoner Pardeep Aggarwal said, "We have ordered closure of swimming pools, gyms and cinema halls and have advised people not to do large gatherings."
Narinder Singh, president of Punjab Halwai Association who runs a Lovely Sweets outlet, said: "We have reduced our production as people are not stepping out to buy even regular stuff like samosa-jalebi. We have pasted messages in our shop like 'karo sabko namaste, raho karona se door hanste hanste'."
He added that customers were only being allowed after sanitising their hands.
Sonu Nilibar, secretary of Punjab Cloth Merchants Association who runs popular store 'Nilibar ' on Mall Road said, "It is time to introspect for the fashion and wedding industry in Punjab . This is a long-term slow down as they are primarily dependent on NRI demand. For the fashion industry, I consider it the first steep fall after the the one seen post the end of insurgency in 1995. The textile and fashion industry had only seen the demand graph rise in the last 25 years. Even the global recession of 2008 had no impact."
He added that the Punjabi diaspora, which has been a major driver of wedding-related businesses in Punjab, is staying away.
"Many have postponed their marriages and buying clothes is not at all a priority for people in this crisis," said Sonu.
The popular Ghumar Mandi market of Ludhiana was also devoid of customers till evening.
At Prem Kulche Wala near Krishan Mandir, the owner rued the drop in sales.
"Customers have reduced by half. No doubt precaution is a must, but fall in sale also hurts," he said.
Chaura Bazar was the only market where The Indian Express could find some rush. "People are coming for essential buying only. I wish, the virus effect fades as early as possible," said Vikas Arora, a customer adjusting his mask near Mata Rani Chowk.
"We buy grocery, vegetables and fruits from market. All other purchases have been postponed. As slow down is visible, hence one need to control expenses too," Pushpinder Singh, a buyer in Model Town, said.