Even as Mumbai copes with torrential rain, Unlock 3.0 is underway with malls reopening today after being shut down for a period of over four months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether you should venture out for a trip to the mall, however, is a question that you should think hard about, according to healthcare experts.
Dr. Parthiv Sanghvi, Former secretary of IMA Maharashtra who is currently an honorary surgeon at a BMC-run hospital in Jogeshwari East told News18, "The biggest problems with malls is that shops are too close to one another which doesn't allow enough space for distancing, and it is basically a closed environment, which is always conducive for the spread of the virus. So, unless it is absolutely important, it is better to avoid malls for the time being."
"I feel people should not do any window shopping at this time, and they should only go to malls to buy essential items. Despite the rules enforced by malls, if there is overcrowding, it will be difficult for mall authorities to maintain social distancing norms strictly," said the doctor, adding that it is our civic duty to ensure that these spaces are not overcrowded, so playing hooky from work at a mall or a family outing to these places are not good ideas at the present.
Of course, several precautions have been put in place to ensure the safety of the public against the deadly coronavirus that has already claimed 6,493 lives in Mumbai and affected 1,17,406 people.
Big malls like Pheonix Market City have made it mandatory to wear masks, and are conducting temperature checks at the entrance. Their website states that they are sanitizing mats for disinfecting people's footwear and requesting people to maintain a four-step distance in the escalator and allowing only three people at a time on elevators. They are also doing safe air conditioning as per government guidelines.
However, the doctor stated that some personal measures should also be taken by visitors to ensure better safety. It is better to have a high-quality mask on and people should refrain from touching too many things in the stores and common surfaces like doorknobs and elevator buttons because although they would be disinfected at regular intervals, there is no accounting for who used them in between the sanitization process.
"Trial rooms are also absolutely closed places in most stores, so the air circulation doesn't happen properly in those particular pockets." said the doctor. Even if malls are maintaining safe air as per government guidelines and their central air conditioning is being monitored, people have to be careful in these boxed spaces, and perhaps shouldn't spend too much time in them. "There are many reports pouring in that Coronavirus can linger in the air for quite some time, so preferably avoid these closed spaces which are being used by multiple people within a short time," he added.
In many malls and stand-alone stores new trial room practices are being enforced. The most common one is that trial clothes are being steamed after trials and being returned to the stands. In some cases, for instance, a news report claims Levis is quarantining trial clothes for 48 hours before bringing it back on the stand. Whatever the policy, people should make sure they know that the clothes are safe before putting them on, and make necessary inquiries about the sanitation process before trying out clothes.
As per the state government guidelines, pregnant women and elderlies should avoid malls, and healthcare experts say that these guidelines should be followed strictly.
Dr. Vaishali Joshi, Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Kokilaben Hospital, Mumbai told News18 "Till now, it has been reassuring that pregnancy doesn't increase the likelihood of catching COVID infection and the effect and transmission to the baby is negligible. However, my advice to pregnant ladies will be to visit malls only if it's really necessary. They should try to take regular health supplements along with daily vitamin C to boost their immunity and be up-to-date with your vaccinations in pregnancy."
However, the doctor pointed out that if there are any issues with the pregnancy or the mother is immunocompromised, then the expecting mother should steer clear from malls. "When it comes to pregnant women, it is also challenging for them to control their urination for long but using loos at malls also comes with a certain degree of risk since loos are enclosed spaces with a risk of exposure to fomites," she said.
In some malls toilets are being cleaned every two hours, however, it is always prudent to carry toilet seat sanitizers, and small hand sanitizer, as well as toilet seat covers, if you have to use a washroom at a mall. Dr. Joshi said that while newborns should not be taken to malls, even for young children masks are advisable.
With gaming arcades and theatres being closed, nutritionist and lifestyle educator Karishma Chawla advised that "malls should not become a playfield for children for the greater good of the community." It is common knowledge that children have been least affected by the virus so far, however, they are major carriers, who can take the virus home to their elderly grandparents, who are at a high-risk category.
Restaurants and food courts are allowed to operate on a fifty percent capacity according to a report in Mumbai Mirror. Chawla says it is important to wash and sanitize hands before eating, and 'to consume food that's properly heated'. "Carefully put away the containers and sanitize your hands thereafter," she advised.
"Our safety is our responsibility. While coffee shops and takeaways have been open for a long time and will now be serving at malls too, if convenient, it would be ideal to carry your own cups. You could also carry a few disposable cups in your bag, should you wish to have a beverage when out." she added.
The move to reopen malls is one of the many 'Mission Begin Again' initiatives that have come into force. Liquor stores, as well as stand-alone shops, are also allowed to open every day now and while all of these steps are necessary to move forward, Mumbai is still in a precarious position. It has only begun to show signs of stabilizing its active cases. So, if you find yourself heading towards the mall, tread carefully.